Federal prosecutors on Thursday charged Greg Craig, a former White House counsel for President Barack Obama, with making false statements to the Justice Department in connection with his work for Ukraine as a partner at Skadden, Arps, Meagher, Slate & Flom.
Prosecutors said Craig made false statements and concealed information about his work on a report prepared in 2012 for the Russia-aligned government of Ukraine, on the prosecution of Yulia Tymoshenko, a former prime minister and political rival of the country’s president at the time, Viktor Yanukovych.
Craig's arraignment is scheduled for Friday afternoon before Magistrate Judge Deborah Robinson. The case has been assigned to Judge Amy Berman Jackson, who has handled several cases brought by Special Counsel Robert Mueller III's investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election. That includes the conviction of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort on charges related to his own past lobbying for Ukraine, and former Trump adviser Roger Stone, who has pleaded not guilty to charges of lying to congressional investigators, obstructing justice and tampering with a witness.
With Thursday’s indictment, Craig becomes the first prominent Democrat to face charges linked to Mueller's investigation. The case also is the first Mueller-related prosecution to come after the conclusion of the special counsel’s investigation.
The Justice Department had previously identified Manafort as the lobbyist who helped Ukraine retain Skadden.
Mueller’s office referred the case to the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York in Manhattan, which did not bring charges. The charges entered Thursday came from federal prosecutors in Washington on the recommendation of the Justice Department’s National Security Division.
The charges come just months after Skadden agreed in January to pay $4.6 million—the equivalent of what the firm received from Ukraine—to resolve claims that it violated the Foreign Agents Registration Act by failing to properly report and disclose that work to the U.S. Justice Department. Without identifying Craig specifically, the Justice Department said in announcing the settlement that a partner at Skadden had made false and misleading statements to the agency’s national security division, causing the U.S. government to conclude the law firm was not obligated to register under FARA.
Craig has maintained his innocence, even as his former law firm registered retroactively as a foreign agent as part of its January settlement with the Justice Department. Craig retired from Skadden in April 2018.
"This indictment accuses Mr. Craig of misleading the FARA Unit of the Department of Justice in order to avoid registration," his defense lawyers William Taylor III and William Murphy of Zuckerman Spaeder said in a statement Wednesday. "It is itself unfair and misleading. It ignores uncontroverted evidence to the contrary. Mr. Craig had no interest in misleading the FARA Unit because he had not done anything that required his registration. That is what this trial will be all about."
In the settlement with Skadden, the Justice Department suggested that Craig misled the national security division’s FARA unit about his contacts with news media ahead of the release of the Tymoshenko report. The Justice Department said Skadden, “in reliance on the lead partner, made false and misleading statements including, among other things, that Skadden provided a copy of the Report only in response to requests from the media and spoke to the media to correct misinformation about the report that the media was already reporting.”
“The firm also submitted documents to the FARA unit that were false,” the Justice Department added.
Craig’s lawyers on Wednesday said he had, in fact, refused Ukraine’s requests to participate in the media and lobbying campaign to release the Tymoshenko report. That report, they said, was critical of Tymoshenko’s prosecution and “caused unhappiness” in Ukraine’s Ministry of Justice.
In their Wednesday statement, Craig’s lawyers acknowledged he spoke to reporters at The New York Times but said he did so on his own volition.
“He did this not at the direction or on behalf of Ukraine but to make certain that the Times would accurately summarize the report's criticisms of the Tymoshenko trial and not rely on misinformation from Ukraine and its representatives,” Craig’s defense team said in a separate statement Wednesday. “He did not lie to his former firm or the government about these conversations. Furthermore, he was told by the FARA unit on Jan. 16, 2014, that he was not required to register under the statute.”
Craig’s attorneys said his underlying role in examining the Tymoshenko prosecution was as “an independent expert on the rule of law, not as an advocate for the client.” They said he and Skadden agreed to work on the report on the condition “that their report would be independent.”
According to Skadden’s FARA registration, Craig was joined on the Ukraine work by Skadden partner Cliff Sloan, whose hourly rate was identified as $1,050. Craig’s rate, according to documents filed in connection with the registration, was $1,150 per hour.
Among the other Skadden lawyers listed in the disclosure was Alexander van der Zwaan, a former associate in the firm’s London office, who pleaded guilty last year to lying to investigators in the special counsel’s office. He was sentenced in April 2018 to 30 days in prison and has since been deported.
The indictment is posted below:
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