WASHINGTON (CN) – In a second round in the limelight of federal court, Rick Gates testified Thursday against former Obama White House counsel Greg Craig in a criminal trial that touches two successive presidential administrations.
Clean-shaven and smiling, Gates – the former deputy campaign chairman for Donald Trump – arrived at the courthouse to serve as the government’s star witness, one year after testifying against his long-time boss Paul Manafort.
After confirming for the jury that he pleaded guilty to conspiracy and lying to the FBI, Gates testified Greg Craig, under the direction of Manafort, willingly participated in a media rollout plan for the Skadden Arps report on the trial of former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.
Federal prosecutors primed the jury for Gates’ testimony last week, saying Gates’ plea agreement “goes up in smoke” if he lies on the witness stand.
Like Manafort and Gates, the case against Craig stems from former special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation and involves failure to register under the Foreign Agent Registration Act, or FARA. The government has dropped FARA charges against Gates, now a cooperating witness.
Craig has pleaded not guilty to the charge of falsifying and concealing information to the Justice Department’s FARA Unit, denying his work on the Tymoshenko investigation as a Skadden partner extended past rule-of-law consulting to include public relations work.
In all, Skadden raked in $4 million on the Tymoshenko investigation. From the witness stand, Gates confirmed he wired the payments from Manafort’s bank account in Cyprus named Black Sea View Limited.
He said Craig provided New York Times reporter David Sanger with a copy of the report and an on-the-record interview. The article ran in The New York Times on Dec. 12, 2012, with the headline “Failings Found in Trial of Ukrainian Ex-Premier” – one day before Ukraine released the Skadden report.
“And had he been asked to do so on Ukraine’s behalf?” Assistant U.S. Attorney Fernando Campoamor-Sanchez asked Gates, who replied “Yes.”
Gates said Craig was critical to the media plan – orchestrated with the help of six public relations firms based in Washington, New York, Berlin, Brussels, London and Paris – as only Craig could speak to the report’s independence.
The teams strategized to provide a select journalist an exclusive story ahead of the release of the Skadden report to steer future coverage. Not knowing if the first article would be critical of the Ukrainian government, Gates said, “They were willing to take the risk given Mr. Sanger was a very credible reporter.”
At trial, now in its second week, both parties have relied heavily on a vast collection of emails submitted as evidence.
On Thursday, the government highlighted an email sent to Craig by Jonathan Hawker, a PR consultant working from Kyiv under instruction from Gates.
“Thanks Greg – that’s great and I’ve shared with Gates. We are both keeping our fingers crossed for David and thank you for your efforts here, especially hand-delivering the report,” Hawker wrote.
The email is dated Dec. 11, 2012, a day before the Times story ran.
In the email, Hawker refers to an event the prosecution has continually turned to: Craig’s hand delivery of a copy of the Skadden report to the journalist’s home in Washington.