WASHINGTON (CN) — A high-profile Washington lawyer accused of working on a secret campaign to sway America’s perception of Ukraine when it was cozy with the Kremlin faced a grueling cross-examination Thursday over a report that cost him his job at Skadden Arps.
Greg Craig appeared on the stand in Washington for the second day today, two weeks into a trial that will decide whether he misled the Justice Department about his work with Ukraine to avoid registering as a foreign lobbyist.
The Ukrainian government hired Craig in 2012 while the country was facing widespread criticism over its prosecution of its former prime minister, Yulia Tymoshenko, who ran an unsuccessful presidential campaign two years earlier against Party of Regions candidate Viktor Yanukovych.
Around the same time, years before Donald Trump would tap him to chair his own election campaign, Paul Manafort was earning millions from the pro-Russia Party of Regions to lobby on its behalf in the United States.
Craig, who joined the powerhouse firm after a brief stint as White House counsel under Barack Obama, denies that he was part of this influence campaign. On direct examination from his defense team Wednesday, Craig insisted he did legitimate rule-of-law consulting for Ukraine about its prosecution of Tymoshenko.
Pushing back against this characterization Thursday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Fernando Campoamor-Sanchez noted that the Skadden Arps report that Craig authored was widely seen as defending the Tymoshenko prosecution, which courts later ruled violated her rights.
“You were aware that there was a lot of criticism of your report because some people saw it as pro-Yanukovych?” Campoamor-Sanchez asked, noting that the State Department under Secretary Hillary Clinton was among those that took issue with the Skadden report.
Craig, in the witness box, replied he was aware but chalked it up as “based on mischaracterizations of our conclusions.”
On Wednesday, Craig had emphasized: “We steered clear and did not, explicitly did not express an opinion on whether the prosecution had been politically motivated.”
Nearing the end of two hours of cross-examination, Campoamor-Sanchez showed the jury, a 12-person panel plus two alternates, draft copies of the letter Craig sent in June 2013 to the unit of the Justice Department that handles Foreign Agents Registration Act compliance.
Alleging that Craig omitted critical information, the prosecutor dialed in on the response listing Dec. 12-13 as the time period Craig communicated with U.S. journalists.
On the stand Wednesday, Craig admitted the dates were wrong — he emailed New York Times reporter David Sanger on Dec. 11 and later that day delivered a copy of the Skadden report to the journalist’s doorstep located just one mile from Craig’s home in Washington.
But Craig testified Thursday the dates were not a calculated effort to mislead the government.
“I think I got this wrong, it was an error, a mistake,” Craig said. “So I misremembered.”
The prosecutor pressed on questioning Craig on whether he “misremembered” other interactions with Sanger when drafting responses to FARA. But Craig repeatedly said he could not remember from the witness stand what in 2013 he recalled or had reviewed in emails.
Seemingly confused by the prosecution’s rapid questioning, Craig said he spoke the truth in his meeting with the FARA unit in October 2013.
“If you’re asking me if I told them the same mistake I made in these documents, the answer to that is no,” Craig testified.
Campoamor-Sanchez said Craig’s October letter showed him “lumping together” contact with The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times and the National Law Journal.
“You said this was done in response to requests from the media. That is not true,” Campoamor-Sanchez said, with regard to providing the report to Sanger.
But Craig repeated his position that, while he made initial contact with Sanger about a potential story on the Skadden investigation, it was Sanger who requested the report be delivered to his home on the evening of Dec. 11.
“I went to talk to Mr. Sanger because I was concerned that Ukraine would misrepresent what the report was about and I wanted The New York Times to get it right,” Craig said.
Craig further testified that Skadden did not consult Ukraine “in any way, shape or form” when communicating with the three news outlets, specifying he did not run his quotes for The New York Times by Manafort or any other Ukrainian representative.
On Wednesday, defense attorney William Taylor asked Craig why he included in the October 2013 letter to the FARA unit citations to The Los Angeles Times and The New York Times articles.
“I thought the most powerful evidence of what we had down and why we had done it was what appeared in the articles themselves,” Craig said Wednesday from the witness stand.
Taylor asked Craig some more questions today at the end of the government’s examination, bringing up Craig’s meetings with agents from former special counsel Robert Mueller’s team in 2017 and 2018.
Craig’s criminal trial is one of several high-profile cases stemming from Mueller’s investigation that involve failure to register under FARA, including proceedings that landed Manafort behind bars.
Craig said he did not hide his contact with Sanger from investigators. “I told them that I delivered the report to Mr. Sanger and it was not part of the media plan,” Craig said.
Responding to a question from his attorney, Craig also said he did not charge Ukraine for contacting U.S. journalist because he was not working for Ukraine “at that moment.”
Defense attorney William Taylor then asked Craig if he received copies of Ukraine’s media-rollout plan. Craig said he did.
“Did you agree to participate in those media plans?” Taylor asked.
“Never,” Craig said.
On Tuesday afternoon, both parties will present closing arguments to the jury, leading into deliberations by the panel to issue a verdict on whether Craig knowingly made false or misleading statements to the government.