Attorney’s Foreign Lobbying Trial Reaches Closing Arguments

Greg Craig walks into a federal courthouse for his trial on Aug. 22, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

WASHINGTON (CN) – Federal prosecutors came out swinging in closing arguments Tuesday during the criminal trial against Greg Craig, urging the jury to find the high-profile Washington attorney guilty of lying to the Justice Department about his work for Ukraine.

The government argued in before a federal jury in Washington that Craig, who served a one-year stint as White House counsel under the Obama administration, is a man of “care and precision” who knowingly omitted key facts about an investigation he led in 2012 as a partner at Skadden Arps for Ukraine’s then-President Viktor Yanukovych when responding to inquiries from the Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA) Unit.

“He carefully poured over what he was going to say and how it was going to be said,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Fernando Campoamor-Sanchez said. 

On a path to pursuing entrance into the European Union, Yanukovych was eager at the time to dodge widespread criticism over the prosecution of his political adversary, former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko. 

Working as a lobbyist for Ukraine – years before President Donald Trump recruited him to serve as a campaign manager – Paul Manafort orchestrated payment and communications between Skadden and the Ukrainian government while a team of attorneys under Craig’s command carried out a six-month investigation into whether Tymoshenko’s trial adhered to Western standards of justice. 

Craig has pleaded not guilty to misleading the FARA Unit. On the witness stand last week, Craig testified that he had stuck to rule-of-law consulting and staunchly rejected solicitations from Manafort to engage in public relations.

The distinction is Craig’s key to avoiding a maximum five-year prison sentence, in one of several high-profile cases stemming from former special counsel Robert Mueller’s findings involving failure to register under FARA.

The government Tuesday honed in on eight alleged omissions Craig made in his response to an April 2013 inquiry from the FARA Unit requesting more information about his contact with U.S. media following the release of the Skadden report. The government claims Craig did not disclose that he contacted New York Times reporter David Sanger, offering an exclusive story ahead of the release of the report. 

Campoamor-Sanchez said Craig willingly executed the media plan advanced by Manafort and Rick Gates – who would later serve as Manafort’s deputy in the Trump campaign.

Determined not to register, Campoamor-Sanchez argued, Craig crafted answers hiding that he made contact with Sanger on Dec. 11, 2012 – listing, instead, Dec. 12 to Dec. 13 as the window in which he communicated with The New York Times and reporters from The Los Angeles Times and the National Law Journal. 

“He jumbled these together beyond recognition. Because at the end of the day his reputation would have been tarnished, tarnished, if it would have come out,” Campoamor-Sanchez said. 

Defense attorney William Murphy argued that Craig made an honest mistake not listing Dec. 11. Murphy added that, in a letter sent to FARA, Craig cited the New York Times’ article which “clearly” states he spoke to Sanger the day before Ukraine released the report to the public.

“Mr. Craig did not bill a single hour for the month of December … There is not a nickel’s worth of time,” Murphy said, reiterating the defense’s case that Craig reached out to Sanger because he feared one of Ukraine’s public relations consultants was crafting false messaging about the Skadden findings. 

But prosecutors pointed to emails that show Craig repeatedly communicated with the consultant, Jonathan Hawker, including just minutes after informing Sanger that Ukraine wanted him to have a first look at the Skadden report. 

“I’m shocked. The man who he claims to be so afraid of, who was going to sabotage the report … he emails him three minutes later? Give me a break,” Campoamor-Sanchez said. 

Throwing a punch at the prosecutor’s sarcastic style, Craig’s defense counsel began his closing argument with an assurance to the jury: “I don’t want to engage in any histrionics,” Murphy said. 

Murphy argued Craig was “simply out of the loop” and responded harshly when Hawker sent a copy of the revised media plan in September 2012 – writing to the consultant and Gates in an email that anyone who read the messaging would think the report was a “whitewash” and that Skadden had been “bought and paid for.” 

The defense attorney set out to undermine both Gates and Hawker, key witnesses for the government. 

Murphy twice described Gates – who testified under a plea agreement – as a “congenital liar” and Hawker as a “occupational liar.” 

In the rebuttal to the defense’s closing argument, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason McCullough dismissed such characterizations. 

The attacks against key witnesses were only part of the defense’s two-hour closing argument, which the government described as strategically long-winded. 

“The reason why it takes two hours to take you through that narrative is because they have to explain away the evidence, in black in white,” McCullough said. 

In 2013, the government initially determined Craig and his Skadden colleagues must register as agents of Ukraine.

McCullough said Craig was “outraged” by their determination and continued to “muddle the facts” in a letter sent later that year – the day after he met with the FARA Unit asking it to reverse its registration decision. 

“In responding to inaccuracies in U.S. news reports – some of which were directly attributed to Ukraine – the law firm did not consult with Ukraine, did not inform Ukraine, did not act under instruction from Ukraine and was no way acting as an agent for Ukraine,” Craig wrote to FARA in the October 2013 letter.

McCullough also dismissed the defense’s argument that Craig made an honest mistake when he again listed Dec. 12 to Dec. 13 in the October letter, which did lead to a reversal of the FARA decision in January 2014.

“He forgot? This is one of the most gifted lawyers and he did not forget … he withheld the facts because he thought he did not have to register,” McCullough said.

He described the defendant, who was present in the packed courtroom, as entitled and willing to lie to his Skadden colleagues and the government in order to safeguard his reputation as a top Washington attorney.

“He is getting $4 million for this. He is under the control of Ukraine,” McCullough said. 

In the final moments of the three-week, document-heavy trial, the prosecutor once again turned to email correspondence between Craig and Gates relating to the defendant’s communications with David Sanger. 

“This is what consulting and informing looks like,” McCullough said.

On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson will instruct the jury before it begins its deliberations.

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