Judge Paves Road to Trial for Ex-Obama Counsel

WASHINGTON (CN) — A federal judge refused Tuesday to block the trial of Greg Craig, former White House counsel to President Barack Obama, on charges that he misled the government about his work on a secret Ukrainian government campaign linked to Paul Manafort.

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

Though the ruling by U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson dismisses one of the two counts brought against Craig in April, it sustains the allegation that Craig willfully lied to the Justice Department to avoid registering as a foreign agent.

The judge did ultimately take issue with the government’s interpretation of the false statement provision in the foreign agent law, arguing precedent allows for the court to dismiss one of the two charges against Craig.

“Given all of those circumstances, the court cannot overlook the fact that the Supreme Court has been steadfast in insisting upon clarity in the language of criminal statutes,” Jackson wrote in a 57-page opinion.

Following his indictment, Craig’s legal team moved to have both counts dismissed on the grounds that the government failed to charge a crime. Craig has maintained throughout proceedings that he is innocent.

The government’s allegations, arising from the special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, involve Craig’s private-sector work in 2012 with the law firm Skadden Arps.

Federal prosecutors accuse Craig of lying about his role in developing a report in collaboration with Manafort, President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, to calm public backlash against the Ukrainian government over the arrest of Orange Revolution leader Yulia Tymoshenko in 2012.

They further claim that Craig tipping off journalists to the report would require him to register as an agent of Ukraine, but the statute of limitations under the Foreign Agents Registration Act has expired.

“In or about early 2012, in the face of the international criticism regarding Tymoshenko’s trial, Ukraine engaged the law firm and Craig, as lead partner, to conduct an independent inquiry into whether, under Western standards of justice, Tymoshenko had received a fair trial, and to prepare a report based on that inquiry,” the 22-page indictment states.

Jackson also oversaw the prosecution of Manafort, lightly veiled in the indictment as the lobbyist Craig worked with on the Tymoshenko report.

“Ukraine planned to deploy the report as part of a strategy headed by an American lobbyist whom Ukraine had employed to, among other things, improve Ukraine’s international public image,” the indictment continues.

Prior to joining the Trump campaign, Manafort acted as a lobbyist for former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych in his pro-Kremlin party.

Former Manafort associate Rick Gates is set to testify against Craig next week, with federal prosecutors indicating that he will be swiftly sentenced following his cooperation.

In a court hearing Tuesday to work out the final details on the upcoming trial, Craig’s attorney Paula Junghans of Zuckerman and Spaeder took issue with Gates testifying.

While the government puts forth that Gates will provide witness statements on Craig’s work on the Tymoshenko report, Junghans argued that Craig had little communication with Gates directly.

“How can you get the ‘why’ out of Gates without getting hearsay out of Mr. Manafort?” she asked.

Attorneys from Zuckerman Spaeder and the Justice Department declined to comment on the decision Tuesday to dismiss the second count against Craig.

Jackson also ruled late Tuesday to partially exclude witness testimony from Heather Hunt, former chief of the Justice Department’s Foreign Agents Registration Act unit, on whether Craig was required to register under the law.

“The court ruled that neither Hunt nor any expert proffered by the government or the defense will be permitted to instruct the jury on what the law requires, including the nature of any duty to disclose; that is solely the province of the court,” the judge’s order states.

If the government allows Craig’s attorneys to conduct a preliminary examination of Hunt, the judge said, she would allow the witness to give expert opinion.

She further determined that Craig’s attorneys had not provided sufficient evidence to prove that Craig was being targeted by the prosecution.

“Defendant cannot support a contention that he was ‘singled out for prosecution from among others similarly situated;’ at least three others have been charged with making false statements to the Department of Justice or the Special Counsel’s Office with respect to work done in connection with the Ukraine,” the judge’s order states.

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