Trump Aide Testifies Against Attorney Accused of Foreign Lobbying Violations

August 27, 2019 by Tom Ramstack
The federal courthouse in Washington DC. (Photo by Dan McCue)

WASHINGTON – Federal prosecutors accused a high-powered Washington, D.C. lawyer in court this week of engaging in illegal foreign lobbying by helping to craft a report critical of the Ukraine’s former prime minister.

Gregory Craig, White House counsel during the Obama administration, says his law firm’s team was merely consulting for a client, not violating any laws. The firm accepted about $4 million in fees from the Ukrainian government.

Craig was hired by Paul Manafort, former campaign manager for President Donald Trump, who is serving more than seven years in prison after being convicted of bank and tax fraud.

Prosecutors said Craig’s effort to help the Ukrainian government went far beyond the normal duties of a lawyer, sometimes dipping into a publicity campaign for a foreign government intended to influence U.S. public opinion.

At the heart of the dispute is a 2012 report produced by Craig and his law firm of Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom LLP that criticized former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko. She was jailed during the administration of her political opponent, then-Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, a longtime Manafort patron.

Although she was charged with financial crimes, her supporters say the arrest was politically motivated. Yanukovych sought a report from Skadden Arps that pointed blame at Tymoshenko but absolved him of wrongdoing.

The Skadden Arps report largely absolved him of misbehavior.

The Justice Department is prosecuting Craig for allegedly violating the Foreign Agents Registration Act. It is designed to give Americans notice when foreign entities try to influence public opinion or politicians.

The law requires foreign agents to register with the Justice Department and to disclose their involvement with the foreign entities.

Federal prosecutors did not charge Craig with failing to register but are accusing him of giving the Justice Department misleading information about his work for the Ukrainian government.

He has pleaded not guilty to one count of making false statements. The 74-year-old faces the possibility of more than five years in prison.  

During testimony August 22,, prosecutors called Rick Gates, a former campaign aide to President Donald Trump. He testified that he worked with Craig to prepare a publicity plan for the Skadden Arps report.

The plan included giving an embargoed copy of the report to a New York Times reporter.

Gates left little doubt about whether Craig was trying to boost the image of the prime minister.

He told the jury that Craig was the one who suggested using a New York Times reporter to “seed” the report that vindicated the prime minister. Craig also made himself available for an interview.

The New York Times story was published in advance of the official release date for the report in late 2012.

Gates testified the story helped create the good publicity Craig and Manafort sought.

“The overall strategy worked,” Gates testified. “The article wasn’t the greatest, but at least it was viewed neutrally, so it did have an impact. From our viewpoint, the success of it was very great.”

Prosecutor Fernando Campoamor-Sanchez asked him, “Did Mr. Craig carry out the role that he had promised to carry out in relation to The New York Times?”

Gates replied, “He did.”

Craig’s attorney tried to portray Gates as an unreliable witness, based partly on his plea bargain last year in which he pleaded guilty to making false statements and conspiracy against the United States. He is awaiting sentencing in federal court.

The prosecution of Gates and Craig are a result of the Mueller investigation into possible collusion between the Russian government and the 2016 Trump campaign for president.

The case is U.S. v. Craig, case number 1:19-cr-00125, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

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