Tense Exchanges at Trial of Former Obama White House Counsel

WASHINGTON (CN) — Tempers flared Tuesday at the trial of Greg Craig as both parties questioned a government witness who testified that the former White House counsel was ingrained in operations to craft U.S. media coverage on Ukraine.

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

Operating under directions from Rick Gates — former Trump deputy campaign manager — a media consultant working from the basement of the Ukrainian prosecutor general’s office developed a media rollout plan in 2012 for the Skadden Arps investigation into the trial of former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

Then a partner at Skadden Arps, Craig has pleaded not guilty to the charge of falsifying and concealing information to the Justice Department, denying his work leading the project extended past rule-of-law consulting to include public relations work for Ukraine.

His indictment is one of many 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.

Prosecutors raised repeated objections during the more than four hour cross-examination by defense attorney William Murphy of Jonathan Hawker, a former BBC journalist turned media consultant.

In one exchange, Assistant U.S. Attorney Fernando Campoamor-Sanchez asked Murphy, “Why are you editorializing? Just ask the question.”

Murphy’s questioning started out with the Zuckerman Spaeder attorney asking if the witness left his job at FTI Consulting after racking up $300,000 in expenses left unpaid by Ukraine working on the Tymoshenko investigation media plan.

Murphy later accused Hawker of falsely characterizing the Skadden report, repeatedly citing a draft press release Hawker authored in 2012.

“[The report] concludes as groundless that Yulia Tymoshenko’s claims that the prosecution was politically motivated and states that she has provided no factual evidence that would be sufficient to overturn her convictions under European or America standards,” the draft states.

Hawker maintained throughout his testimony that he was doing the job of a public relations consultant by reflecting the position of his client.

“Sometimes we refer to folks over here as spin doctors,” Murphy said to the witness who is from the United Kingdom.

“What a terrible phrase,” Hawker replied. “I prefer to use the term public relations consultant.”

U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson on more than one occasion warned Murphy to refrain from arguing with the witness.

The testimony included reference to “tongue and cheek” language in various documents presented as evidence, including that Hawker and colleagues at FTI Consulting referred to Rick Gates as “(P)Rick Gates.”

Pulling up the media rollout plan that Manafort and the FTI Consulting team in Kyiv called “Master Control Grid,” Murphy focused in on a page that listed high-profile politicians — including former President Barack Obama and former U.S. House Speaker John Boehner — that Craig could make contact with following the report’s release in December 2012.

Murphy said Craig never committed to the engagements, nor trips to major European cities to speak on the report’s conclusion. But Hawker repeatedly said it is common practice to develop a plan with a range of public relations strategies.

“It was a hypothetical, inspirational plan, if we were given a free hand,” Hawker said.

Buckling down, Murphy continued to question Hawker as to why in the months leading up to the report’s release, he did not send PR documents to the defendant.

But Hawker repeated a statement made earlier under direct questioning  by the government that it was Paul Manafort, former campaign manager to then-candidate Donald Trump, who communicated to Craig directly.

“They’re both people that had advised presidents and I’m a PR consultant,” Hawker said earlier in the day.

The witnesses had also told the government that he was relieved when Craig agreed to an interview with New York Times reporter David Sanger — offering to hand-deliver the report to Sanger’s house in the same D.C. neighborhood where Craig resides.

“Would you promise a call with someone like Greg Craig if you did not believe it to be arranged?” Campoamor-Sanchez said.

“I’m a PR consultant,” Hawker said after answering that he would not. “If you don’t deliver, your name is mud.”

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