WASHINGTON (CN) – In a full day of testimony by high-profile D.C. attorney Cliff Sloan, both sides in the criminal trial of Manafort-tied Greg Craig plowed through draft letters Sloan and Craig wrote responding to a 2013 Justice Department inquiry into their work for the Ukrainian government.
Former White House counsel for Barack Obama, Craig has pleaded not guilty to the charge of falsifying and concealing information to the Justice Department. His indictment is one of several high-profile criminal cases stemming from former special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation that involve failure to register under the Foreign Agent Registration Act, or FARA.
A partner at Skadden Arps in 2012, Craig steered the firm’s investigation in the trial of former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko. But he denies his work for Ukraine extended past rule-of-law consulting to include public relations – including outreach to U.S. press to generate favorable coverage for the foreign government.
Now retired from Skadden Arps, Sloan co-wrote the Skadden report on the Tymoshenko investigation and took the witness stand Friday to testify on his role drafting responses to the Justice Department’s FARA Unit with Craig.
While laying out the many chapters of his Washington career – including as a Supreme Court clerk for Justice John Paul Stevens, State Department special envoy for the Guantanamo closure and the publisher of Slate magazine – Sloan testified he met Craig before the two men entered law school more than 40 years ago.
Over four hours into reviewing draft versions of the Skadden response the FARA inquiry, Sloan commented it was “best to look at the letter in the final form.”
But both sides instead relied heavily on a series of drafts, focusing on the second FARA Unit inquiry in April 2013. It followed an initial outreach to Skadden in December 2012, weeks after the report released, for information on their work for the Ukraine Ministry of Justice to determine if the firm should register under FARA.
The April letter asked Skadden to provide additional information to FARA including whether the firm distributed the report or agreed to interviews with media.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Molly Gaston focused on small changes made by Craig as he and Sloan exchanged draft copies of the report.
“The purpose of the statement was to correct misinformation that the media had received – and was reporting – from the Ministry of Justice of Ukraine and Tymoshenko’s team,” a May 2012 draft reads.
“So between these drafts it changed from ‘one purpose’ to ‘the purpose’?” Gaston asked, to which Sloan replied “Correct.”
Skadden submitted the final draft, signed by Craig, in June 2013.
The government argued in its opening statement this month that Craig misled the Justice Department rather than register as an agent of Ukraine to safeguard his reputation as a prominent D.C. attorney.
But the defense maintains Craig provided all relevant information to the FARA Unit.
His contact with New York Times reporter David Sanger has been raised repeatedly in evidence and witness testimony, overshadowing contact with other media outlets.
But defense attorney William Murphy on Friday highlighted a line from Sanger’s Dec. 12, 2012, article, seeming to suggest its publication exonerated Craig.
After Sloan testified he was unaware in 2013 that Sanger interviewed Craig, Murphy asked, “But the article states that Mr. Craig spoke to The New York Times before the report released?”
“It certainly seems to state that,” Sloan said.
Closing out four hours of cross-examination, Murphy asked Sloan whether he had ever believed he was operating as a Ukrainian agent while working on the Tymoshenko investigation.
“I don’t see the relevance,” said U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson after the prosecution objected.
“He’s the co-author of the report,” Murphy argued, but after a discussion at the bench concluded with no further questions.
Gaston then fired off more than 10 questions at Sloan.
She asked whether Sloan was aware at the time he drafted FARA responses with Craig that Craig communicated with Paul Manafort and Rick Gates about public relations work; that Craig reached out to the New York Times reporter to inform him that “Ukraine had determined that Mr. Sanger should get the first look” at the Skadden report; or that Craig hand-delivered a hardcopy to Sanger’s home in Washington.
Sloan denied having any personal knowledge in 2013 of the events Gaston outlined.
In responding to the FARA request, Craig indicated Skadden also provided the report to journalists from the London-based Daily Telegraph, the Los Angeles Times and the National Law Journal.
But on redirect, Sloan confirmed he only exchanged emails with Craig regarding corrections to the National Law Journal article.
“So you had no firsthand knowledge of any of these individuals receiving the report?” Gaston asked. Sloan replied he did not.
“So who had the factual knowledge to answer the question?” Gaston asked.
Well I did not and, at least to some of these, Greg Craig was in touch with them,” Sloan testified.
A second Skadden attorney took the stand after over five hours of testimony from Sloan. Considered the Skadden in-house FARA expert, Kenneth Gross attended the 2013 meeting with the Justice Department’s FARA Unit.
Gross testified Craig led discussion at the table seated with Skadden executive attorney Laurence Spiegel and FARA Unit Director Heather Hunt.
Craig made a “persuasive case” to the FARA Unit, Gross said, adding he walked out of the meeting thinking Skadden may not be required to register.
“Greg was making the point that the contacts that he had with certain press were to correct misinformation that was printed or about to be printed,” he testified.
Both Hunt and Spiegel are slated to testify next week in the government’s final round of witnesses.
Before concluding day 8 of arguments, Judge Jackson also instructed the defense to produce a list of the character witnesses to testify by Monday.