Ex-Obama Counsel Denies Lying About Work for Ukraine

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

WASHINGTON (CN) – The man who served as White House counsel under former President Barack Obama pleaded not guilty on Friday to charges of lying to the federal government about work he and his firm did for the Ukrainian government that was linked to former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort.

Greg Craig, who worked as White House counsel from 2009 to 2010, was indicted on Thursday for making false statements to the federal government about work he and his firm did on a report meant to dampen criticism the Ukrainian government faced for the prosecution of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

Craig appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge Deborah Robinson in Washington D.C., on Friday afternoon wearing a dark grey suit and dark-rimmed glasses. He pleaded not guilty through his attorney, William Murphy, and is scheduled to next appear on Monday.

Robinson released Craig on the promise that he would return to court for future proceedings.

The Ukrainian government allegedly hired Craig’s law firm, Skadden Arps, to prepare a report on whether Tymoshenko’s 2011 trial was fair in an effort to push back on widespread criticism that the prosecution was politically motivated.

In the 2010 elections, Tymoshenko ran opposed to former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, a member of the pro-Russian Party of Regions.

According to the indictment, a Ukrainian businessman allegedly paid Skadden Arps more than $4 million to prepare the report, which was part of a plan to rehabilitate the government’s public image hatched by an American lobbyist. While unnamed in the indictment, the lobbyist is reportedly convicted former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort.

Craig allegedly worked to tip reporters off to the report before it was publicly released, including by hand-delivering a copy of the document to a reporter’s house.

As The New York Times reported in 2012, the Skadden Arps report found that Tymoshenko’s trial violated several key legal rights. But the 2012 story about the report also notes the findings largely sided with the Ukrainian government’s version of events, including by saying nothing in the record of the trial supported the claim that the prosecution was politically motivated. 

Though Craig, 74, and others at the firm are accused of on multiple occasions discussing whether they would have to register with the federal government under the Foreign Agents Registration Act for their work preparing the report, Craig never did. The indictment says Craig did not want to register as an agent, in part because he was worried it would prevent him or his co-workers from taking jobs in the federal government in the future.

The Justice Department reached out to Skadden Arps a week after the report was published warning that its work might require it to register as a foreign agent, leading Craig to allegedly lie about the funding of the report and the firm’s interactions with media about its release.  The Justice Department eventually determined neither the firm nor Craig needed to register as an agent of Ukraine, according to the indictment.

Skadden Arps in January agreed to a $4.6 million settlement with the federal government based on similar allegations.

Craig’s case will be heard by U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson, the same judge who oversaw Manafort’s case in Washington, D.C.

%d bloggers like this: