Jury Selection Kicks Off for Ex-Obama Counsel

WASHINGTON (CN) — Unregistered foreign agents brought down by the same investigation raised similar concerns to no avail, but Greg Craig’s defense team told a federal judge Monday that publicity surrounding former special counsel Robert Mueller’s work will taint the former White House lawyer’s trial.

Former Obama administration White House counsel Gregory Craig arrives at U.S. District Court in Washington on Oct. 17, 2016. Lawyers for Craig say they expect him to be charged in a foreign lobbying investigation that grew out of the special counsel’s Russia probe. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Brandishing a copy of The New York Times in court, Craig’s attorney Paula Junghans voiced alarm this morning that the public has already been apprised of evidence the government is barred from presenting at trial. 

U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson meanwhile appeared unshaken, emphasizing that voir dire will be rigorous for the 70 potential jurors entering the courtroom this afternoon.

“There will be follow up,” Jackson assured the Zuckerman Spaeder attorney. “We are going to ask them what they have read and heard.”

Craig’s trial will focus on the years 2012 to 2013 when convicted lobbyist Paul Manafort commissioned a report from the private law firm Skadden Arps, where Craig was a partner, that backed Ukraine’s politically strategic arrest of its former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

Ukraine at the time was run by President Viktor Yanukovych, who belonged to the pro-Kremlin Party of Regions. Years before he chaired Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, Manafort made his fortune as a secret lobbyist for the Party of Regions in the United States.

Craig meanwhile has no connection to the current commander in chief. Before joining Skadden Arps, Craig was White House counsel for the Obama administration. Prosecutors charged him not with violations of the Foreign Agents Registration Act, which is covered by a statute of limitations that expired, but rather with having willfully lied to the Justice Department to avoid registering as a foreign agent. A conviction could send the 74-year-old to prison for five years.

Craig’s case is sprawling, and Judge Jackson offered prospective jurors a warning Monday before identifying the more than 50 potential American and Ukrainian actors to likely be mentioned in proceedings.  

“I’m about to read a very long list of names,” Jackson said.

On the list were Manfort, now imprisoned for a host of financial crimes as well as FARA violations and conspiring against the United States; and Rick Gates, who pleaded guilty to conspiring against the United States and making false statements to the FBI.

Gates testified against Mueller in August and is also slated to serve as a key witness against Craig.

The court is expected to whittle the jury pool down to just 14 men and women who were not previously exposed to information on Craig’s case through news media or more informal online or in-person discussions.

Judge Jackson also inquired Monday if Craig’s past work with Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright — or the case arising from the Mueller investigation — would pose an issue for any of the jurors. 

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