Greg Craig found not guilty of lying to Justice Department about Ukraine work

By Amber Ali

/ CBS News

Washington — Greg Craig, a prominent Democratic attorney and former White House counsel, was found not guilty of lying to the Justice Department about work he had done on behalf of Ukraine in 2012. A federal jury in Washington acquitted Craig after less than four hours of deliberation on Wednesday.

Craig, who served as special counsel to President Bill Clinton and was White House counsel in the first year of the Obama administration, was charged with making false statements to the Justice Department officials about the work he performed on behalf of the Ukrainian government. The case was spun off from former special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation, and Craig faced up to five years in prison if convicted.

The three-week trial concluded on Tuesday, when prosecutors and Craig's defense team made their closing arguments.

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Assistant U.S. Attorney Fernando Campoamor-Sanchez told the jury that Craig "chose to conceal the facts, and that's the crime … You have it black and white, his own words."

William Murphy, Craig's defense attorney, said two of the government's "star witnesses" were "consistent liars, and cant even get the most mundane facts straight." He said Gates "provided a testimony he thought that prosecution wanted to him say," calling him a "perfect con artist" who "would do anything to get a lighter sentence."

Greg Craig in court on Friday, April 12, 2019. William J. Hennessy, Jr.

The scrutiny of Craig began when federal investigators began looking into Manafort for his work on behalf of a pro-Russian political party in Ukraine.

The Ukrainian government hired Craig and his law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP in 2012 to write a report examining the prosecution of Yulia Tymoshenko, a former Ukrainian prime minister and political opponent of then-Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, a longtime Manafort patron aligned with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The report was billed as an independent investigation carried out by an American law firm to determine if Tymoshenko had a fair trial based on Western legal standards.
Prosecutors argued Craig misled officials from the Justice Department responsible for overseeing registrations under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, or FARA. They said Craig and the firm downplayed the extent of their work and understated the amount of money they were being paid.

In a settlement earlier this year, Skadden Arps acknowledged it had been paid $4.6 million, far more than the $12,000 the Ukrainian government initially said it had paid. The firm laid much of the blame on Craig.

One of the key questions at Craig's trial was whether he falsified his contacts with reporters about the rollout of his law firm's report. After the report was finished in 2012, Craig and Skadden suggested the Ukrainian government hire Jonathan Hawker of FTI, a public relations firm in London. To comply with FARA, Craig and Skadden could not do any media relations work.

Gates, Manafort's associate, was the main point of contact for Hawker and the intermediary between Manafort's firm and FTI for the public relations rollout.

Hawker was a key witness for the prosecution, which sought to prove Craig intended to influence U.S. media. Hawker testified he was not entirely familiar with FARA rules and said one of the reasons he took the job was because of Craig's role. "If it was something problematic, [Craig] wouldn't be there and we wouldn't be there," he said.

In his testimony, Gates recounted a plan to "seed" the report to the New York Times journalist David Sanger, a suggestion he said came from Craig, who offered Sanger an early look at the report.

"It was kind of like a domino effect, and if you get one good article, a lot of the other articles would follow suit," Gates said. "Journalists don't typically like to do all of their own legwork. They borrow from other reporters."

Craig's defense attorneys told the jury that Craig only spoke to reporters to clear up any miscommunications they had about the report. They said he concluded the PR firm was not properly characterizing the findings of the report and Craig had to step in.

Campoamor-Sanchez, the prosecutor, said Craig intentionally omitted his contacts with reporters to Heather Hunt, head of the FARA unit.

"No matter how many great things he has done, in this country no one is above the law, truth matters, facts matter," Campoamor-Sanchez told the jury Tuesday. "Now that you have heard the facts it is time for you to find him guilty as charged."

Murphy, Craig's defense attorney, said his client "didn't tell the FARA unit that he was part of this media plan because he never thought he was part of this media plan, and in fact he wasn't."

"Find him not guilty and prevent this prosecution of sounding a horrible false note after a career of honor, service and integrity," Murphy said in his closing arguments.

First published on September 4, 2019 / 3:16 PM

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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