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Prosecutors hammer Democratic lawyer Greg Craig on Ukraine

WASHINGTON – Prominent Democratic attorney Gregory Craig blackened his own reputation by scheming with Paul Manafort to work for the Ukrainian government without registering with the Justice Department as a foreign agent and lied to investigators to conceal contacts with The New York Times meant to benefit their client, federal prosecutors said Tuesday.

In closing arguments at Craig’s federal trial, prosecutors hammered the former White House counsel as motivated by greed and self-protection, spurred by Manafort’s promise of seven-figure annual billings.

Ukraine hired Craig for his “sterling reputation” to bolster its battered image in the West, and Craig lied to Justice Department officials about the nature of his work because “his reputation would have been tarnished if the truth that had come out,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Fernando Campoamor-Sanchez told jurors. “But now the truth has come out.”

“No matter how many great things he has done in this country, no one is above the law in this country,” he went on. “The truth matters. Facts matter. And now that you have heard the evidence, it is time for you to hold this man accountable for that scheme, and that truth, and find him guilty as charged.”

Craig, 74, has pleaded not guilty to a felony count of making false statements to officials investigating whether he and his law firm, Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, should have registered as foreign lobbyists for writing a 2012 report reviewing the jailing of Yulia Tymoshenko, a political rival to Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. Manafort was a political adviser to Yanukovych.

Craig, who advised Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, was indicted in April. Before his trial, U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson dropped what had been a second count against him of submitting a false or misleading report under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, saying it was unclear whether the act applied in the circumstances.

In the defense’s closing, Craig attorney William Murphy implored jurors to scrutinize the law and a 2013 letter from Craig to the Justice Department explaining to investigators that Craig had his own reasons to speak to The Times, namely to defend himself, his firm’s and his colleagues’ work, and that he was not paid for his media outreach.

Government allegations that Craig was part of Ukraine’s media rollout of the report relied on the words of a “congenital liar,” Murphy said, naming Manafort deputy Rick Gates, who testified and awaits sentencing after cooperating in Mueller’s probe and as a witness against Craig and Manafort.

Murphy said Craig was truthful in saying that in responding to The Times, Craig did not inform or consult with Ukraine or act as its agent.

Murphy spoke of the reputation Craig had built over 50 years and urged jurors to “salvage” it for him, saying, “We ask you to apply the evidence with the law and find him not guilty and prevent this prosecution from sounding a horrible, false note at the end of an incredible career of honor, service and integrity.”

The three-week trial has turned on why Craig communicated with Times journalist David Sanger on Dec. 11, 2012.

Craig’s position, as laid out in trial, is that he made contact only to correct mischaracterizations being promoted by Ukraine that Skadden’s report exonerated its treatment of Tymoshenko. Prosecutors contend that Craig hand-delivered the report to the journalist’s home two days before it was released because, Craig wrote Sanger in an email, Ukraine had determined it wanted The Times to have it first as part of a planned media campaign.

The charge of making false statements carries up to a five-year prison sentence, but federal guidelines for a first offender include probation.

A conviction in the case would tarnish the closing years of the career of one of the most respected Democratic lawyers in Washington.

An acquittal could raise anew questions about the adequacy of U.S. laws meant to bring transparency to the work of American lawyers, lobbyists and publicists employed by foreign governments to influence U.S. policy and public opinion.

Craig’s career has alternated between public service and private law practice. He was an impeachment lawyer for Clinton and served as White House counsel to Obama, and he represented Soviet dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and former U.N. secretary general Kofi Annan. After leaving his longtime professional home of Williams and Connolly, and the Obama administration, he joined Skadden in January 2010, before Ukraine came calling. Craig retired from Skadden in 2018.

The case involving Craig, the first prominent Democrat charged in an investigation spun off from special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe, is set to go to a jury Wednesday.

Craig’s prosecution has placed an exclamation mark on Washington’s crackdown on foreign lobbyists under FARA, a long dormant law that requires Americans to disclose when they are paid to influence U.S. policy for foreign governments, political parties or politicians.

The law formed the basis of charges against nearly two dozen defendants investigated by Mueller – compared with seven federal prosecutions the previous five decades.

Skadden in January reached a settlement with the Justice Department, admitting it should have registered for its work in 2012 and 2013, and agreed to turn over $4.6 million it made for the report in exchange for facing no criminal charges. In its settlement, Skadden agreed that an initial finding by the Justice Department in 2014 that the firm did not need to register came after the agency relied on “false and misleading oral and written statements” made by Craig.