Billing Takes Center Stage at Trial of Manafort Ukraine Team Member

Greg Craig, left, arrives ahead of his arraignment at federal court in Washington on April 12, 2019. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

WASHINGTON (CN) – A federal judge shot down objections by attorneys for former White House counsel Greg Craig on Wednesday over the government’s use of the Skadden Arps IT director to present dozens of documents as evidence in Craig’s criminal trial.

“A lot of emails have come in through witnesses that have no recollection whatsoever,” U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson said.

But defense attorney William Taylor argued the court would be allowing a summary witness to testify if Peter Lesser, director of global technology for Skadden, took the stand.

“He’s simply narrating,” Taylor said.

The Zuckerman Spaeder attorney failed to convince Jackson, who said the witness does not have to be the source of evidence. U.S. attorneys called Lesser based on his extensive review of evidence obtained from the Skadden document management system at the government’s request.

The judge assured the defense Lesser would read verbatim – not summarize – the Skadden documents and ordered the trial to proceed.

What followed was more than two hours of Assistant U.S. Attorney Molly Gaston asking Lesser to confirm that a document originated at Skadden, in some cases directly from the office of Greg Craig.

The evidence touched on a range of issues in the case including payment from the Ukrainian government to Skadden for an investigation into the abuse of power trial of former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

Craig’s indictment is one of many high-profile criminal cases stemming from former special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation that involve failure to register under the Foreign Agent Registration Act, or FARA.

He has pleaded not guilty to the charge of falsifying and concealing information to the FARA Unit at the Justice Department.

A partner at Skadden Arps in 2012, Craig steered the Tymoshenko investigation but denies his work on the project extended past rule-of-law consulting to include public relations work – including outreach to U.S. journalists to generate favorable press coverage for Ukraine.

Among the documents presented as evidence Wednesday were emails from as early as October 2012 sent by Craig to New York Times reporter David Sanger.

That year on Dec. 12 – the day before the Skadden report on the Tymoshenko trial was released – Craig wrote to Sanger inquiring if the Washington bureau chief wanted an exclusive story.

“I will hand-deliver a copy of the report to your home tonight,” Craig wrote after Sanger voiced interest.

Another witness who worked as Craig’s assistant for almost 20 years testified she had emailed an electronic copy of the report to Sanger under instruction from Craig the same day.

Later asked to identify handwriting on a Hyatt Regency Kyiv notepad, Catherine Whitney confirmed the notes belonged to Greg Craig.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Fernando Campoamor-Sanchez then asked Whitney to read a line near the bottom of the notepad, one Lesser had been unable to decipher for the jury.

“Backgrounding critical journalists,” Whitney read.

Whitney was one of three current Skadden Arps employees of the five witnesses that testified Wednesday, including public relations manager Lauren Malet and CFO Noah Puntus.

The government presented a series of invoices to Puntus sent by Craig to Skadden’s client, the Ukrainian Ministry of Justice, focusing on an additional request of $1.25 million by Craig in June 2013, six months after the report’s release.

Skadden raked in more than $4 million by the end of the Tymoshenko investigation from the Ukrainian government. In 2012, Paul Manafort – later the former Trump campaign manager in the 2016 election – oversaw the payments, which were routed through a Cyprus bank account named Black Sea View Limited.

“Based on our books and records $1.25 million was not outstanding,” Puntus testified.

When asked by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason McCullough if Skadden partners typically issue invoices to clients directly, Puntus said, “This is not our standard practice.”

Defense attorney William Murphy, of Zuckerman Spaeder, dismissed the government’s focus on the additional payment request. He focused his questions to Puntus on outstanding expenses for interpreters and translators that may have accounted for the final request of $1.25 million, while also highlighting other invoices for more than $1 million.

Murphy also argued the document requesting the $1.25 million from Ukraine, signed by Craig, was not an invoice.

On redirect, McCullough asked Puntus to identify the pages that followed the defendant’s signature.

“These are wire instructions,” Puntus said, prompting the government attorney to ask if they were wire instructions sufficient for Ukraine to wire more than $1 million to Skadden. The defense objected to McCullough’s question and Judge Jackson sustained.

On Thursday, the government plans to call Rick Gates to testify against Craig under a plea agreement, as the trial nears the end of its second week.

After pleading guilty to conspiring against the United States and making false statements to the FBI, Gates – the former deputy Trump campaign manager – testified against former boss Manafort this year.

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