Obama White House Counsel Greg Craig Acquitted Over Lying About Ukraine Work

Former Obama White House attorney Gregory Craig has been found not guilty of lying to federal officials about his work for the Ukrainian government on a project led by jailed lobbyist Paul Manafort, according to the Washington Post

The 74-year-old Craig, a former top legal adviser to both Bill Clinton and Obama, was facing one felony count of making false statements to investigators who were probing whether he and his law firm, Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom should have registered under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), which requires Americans being paid by foreign governments or politicians to influence US policy to register with the DOJ. 

The report was commissioned by the Ukrainian government in a project led by Paul Manafort, a political adviser to Yanukovych. A wealthy Ukrainian businessman, Viktor Pinchuk, secretly paid Skadden $4.15 million for work on the report, testimony showed. -WaPo

Of note, lobbyist Tony Podesta retroactively filed his FARA registration while working for the same Manafort-led effort, weeks before Manafort was indicted by special counsel Robert Mueller. 

The 12 jurors took less than a day to conclude that Craig - who testified that he never lied to investigators - did not intentionally cover up details of his involvement in a media outreach for the Ukrainian report

Craig, President Barack Obama’s first White House counsel and impeachment counsel for former Yale Law School classmate President Bill Clinton, took the stand in his own defense, saying he did not lie, never believed he had a role in Ukraine’s media plan and played no role in formulating it.

Craig was the first prominent Democrat charged in an investigation spun off from special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s Russia probe.

The charge carried up to a five-year prison sentence, although federal guidelines could recommend probation for a first-time offender. -WaPo

Prosecutors had argued that Craig failed to register under FARA because disclosure of his Ukraine work would negatively reflect on his firm and hinder his colleagues' ability to quickly return to government service

Assistant US Attorney Fernando Campoamor-Sanchez told jurors that Craig's status as a very experienced Washington attorney meant that he should have known better than to lie. 

"It doesn’t get more experienced than Mr. Craig," said Campoamor-Sanchez. "He’s a man of position. He’s very careful about what he does and how he does it."

Still, Campoamor-Sanchez added, Craig chose to conceal information in order to prevent potentially damaging details about his firm’s work with Ukraine from surfacing. He said those details included payment arrangements for the report, which allowed the bulk of Skadden’s more than $4 million fee to be provided by a wealthy Ukrainian businessman sympathetic to Yanukovych’s government.

Ukraine’s Ministry of Justice stated publicly in 2012 that it had agreed to pay Skadden about $12,000 for its work. Although Craig and his law firm did tell the FARA unit about the third-party payer situation, it declined to reveal the particular individual because he didn’t want his identity disclosed. Much of the money Skadden received for the report was wired through a bank account in Cyprus controlled by former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort. -Bloomberg

The core of the US Government's case revolved around emails between Craig and a New York Times journalist, along with a hand-delivered copy of the Ukraine report to the journalist's Washington home prior to it being made public. Craig wrote that the Ukrainians "have determined" that the reporter should be allowed an exclusive first look at the report. Craig also offered to discuss the report. 

Jurors also heard testimony from former Trump campaign aide Rick Gates, who cooperated under a plea deal. Gates, during his work for Manafort’s consulting firm, helped facilitate third-party payments to Skadden for its report.

At that time, both Manafort and Gates were advising Yanukovych, whom they helped get elected.

The government attempted to use Gates’s testimony to paint Craig as a willing participant in the public relations plan for the Skadden report. But Craig’s defense team cited Gates’s past crimes, conspiracy and lying to federal investigators, to discredit his testimony.

He is, in plain and simple terms, a con artist,” Murphy said during closing arguments. “This is a man who will do anything to get probation.” -Bloomberg

In January, Skadden turned over $4.6 million it made in Ukraine in a deal struck with the Justice Department. The firm admitted that it should have registered for its 2012 and 2013 work, and that Craig made "false and misleading oral and written statements."