Defense Takes Over in Trial of DC Power Attorney With Manafort Ties

Greg Craig, former White House counsel to former President Barack Obama, walks into a federal courthouse for his trial on Aug. 22, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

WASHINGTON (CN) – Attorneys for high-profile Washington – and Paul Manafort-tied – lawyer Greg Craig told a federal judge Tuesday that a close look at the federal statute requiring U.S. citizens to register as foreign agents for certain work done outside the United States reveals the ex-Skadden Arps lawyer had no obligation to tell the full truth to the Justice Department.

“What you’re saying is you have a right to wordsmith your way around pulling the wool over the government’s eyes?” U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson asked Craig’s attorney Ezra Marcus before jurors arrived Tuesday. Marcus had argued the law does not require Craig to disclose information outside the scope of questions asked in a Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA) inquiry.

The criminal trial is one of several high-profile cases stemming from former special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation that involve failure to register under FARA. Craig has pleaded not guilty to a charge of making false or misleading statements to the FARA Unit about his role as the lead Skadden Arps partner investigating the trial of former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko at the request of then-Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych.

Craig denies his work for the Ukrainian Ministry of Justice extended past rule-of-law consulting to include public relations – including contact with U.S. journalists as instructed by Manafort to generate positive press coverage for Ukraine. The former campaign manager to Donald Trump, Manafort was at the time a lobbyist for Yanukovych.

Referring to United States v. McGoff, a 1987 D.C. Circuit case that Marcus noted Judge Jackson relied on when sentencing Manafort this past March, Marcus argued Craig was no longer even required to register as an agent under FARA in 2012 and 2013, the period under examination in the trial.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Molly Gaston said McGoff relates to the statute of limitations to prosecute for failure to register, rather than an expiration on the obligation to file as a foreign agent.

But Marcus, reading from the circuit opinion, held firm.

“[The obligation] expires when the agent ceases activities on behalf of the foreign principle,” Marcus said, noting the FARA Unit does retroactively register U.S. citizens who undertook work for foreign governments.

“So people are just doing it to accommodate the government’s request?” Jackson asked, to which Marcus responded “That’s right.”

With the defense beginning its case Tuesday, former Skadden Arps partner Cliff Sloan returned to the stand as a defense witness. Sloan co-wrote the Tymoshenko report with Craig and appeared eager to testify on events left untouched when the government made its case last week.

Looking at six emails between Craig and Sloan from August to September 2012, defense attorney William Taylor highlighted attached documents from the Ukrainian Prosecutor General’s Office with suggested edits to the Skadden report. The documents ranged from 3 to 20 pages, adding up to more than 50 single-spaced pages.

Taylor also showed an email from Craig to Sloan containing an attachment of a media rollout plan by the Ukrainian-contracted public relations firm, titled “Project Veritas Messaging.”

“I need your help. The PR guys are all over the top,” Craig wrote to Sloan in September 2012.

In an email sent the same day to the consultant who drafted the plan, Craig wrote that anyone reading its content would think Skadden had been “bought and paid for” and that the report was a “whitewash.”

Shown multiple statements from the media plan, Sloan said the messaging mischaracterized the Skadden report. His statements fortified the defense claim that Craig independently made contact with U.S. new outlets, concerned Ukraine was distorting findings from the Tymoshenko investigation in a bid to boost its chances of being admitted into the European Union.

“By that time the government of Ukraine had made many attempts to influence its contents,” Sloan testified.

The defense also called four character witnesses beginning with Craig’s former colleague, Williams and Connolly senior partner Brendon Sullivan.

The high-profile D.C. attorney – known for defending Lieutenant-Colonel Oliver North in the aftermath of the Iran-Contra scandal – said he first met Craig in 1972, during their early years at Williams and Connolly.

Sullivan testified that as a member of the firm’s executive committee he is well aware of Craig’s reputation in the D.C. legal community.

“Not once, ever, did anyone say anything about his integrity or truthfulness,” Sullivan said.

But after Sullivan stepped down, Judge Jackson said the statement was not admissible and instructed the jury to disregard it.

The defense also called the former director of the preschool where Craig’s children attended, followed by a municipal judge from Georgia who first met Craig in 1966.

As college juniors, Judge Clinton Deveaux said, he and Craig worked on activism amid the political unrest surrounding the Vietnam War. Deveaux said Craig was a student leader “clear in his own mind” and pushed for lawful and nonviolent war protests.

The character witnesses drew minimal cross-examination from the government with the exception of Jessica Mathews, the last to take the stand.

Dating back to their years as Harvard undergraduates, Mathews’ relationship with Craig culminated in her tenure as president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. She served in the role during the 25 years Craig sat on the board of directors for the D.C. think tank.

Matthews testified that over a lifetime Craig developed a “broad reputation in Washington as somebody whose word was gold and whose judgment was absolute.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Fernando Campoamor-Sanchez hooked her statement as an chance to raise the government’s case that Craig lied to the FARA Unit to protect his sterling D.C. reputation.

“Something that challenged that reputation is something you would want to protect against?” Campoamor-Sanchez asked.

Stating the prosecution’s question was unclear, Mathews lingered over her response.

“Greg was sort of the last person in this town to tarnish what he has believed in for a lifetime,” she said.

Craig will take the stand in his own defense Wednesday.

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