A federal judge Monday said she would aim for a mid-August trial for Washington attorney Gregory B. Craig, whose defense team said it would move to dismiss his indictment on charges of lying in connection with Robert S. Mueller III’s Russia probe.
Craig, President Barack Obama’s first White House counsel and a special counsel to president Bill Clinton, was indicted last week on charges he made false statements to Justice Department officials examining whether he needed to register as a foreign lobbyist for work he and his law firm did on behalf of the Ukrainian government.
The work was done at the request of Paul Manafort, according to court filings.
Craig, 74, has pleaded not guilty, and Monday his defense lawyers previewed their legal argument that his two felony charges rest on what they say is an unsupportable position that any omission a witness makes to investigators is a lie.
“That is not the law, but that is what this indictment is based on,” Craig lawyer William W. Taylor III said in an initial scheduling hearing before U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson of Washington. “That is what this case is going to be about.”
Jackson gave both sides until June 21 to file legal papers on the question, but challenged Taylor, saying, “It’s not your position that you cannot charge a false statement based on an omission to the government, is it?” and adding that Craig also was charged with “affirmative misrepresentations” in a letter to the Justice Department.
Taylor replied no to the first question, and said the letter “was really a piece of advocacy” to correct misreporting about the firm’s work, containing statements that “are not misrepresentations, and are certainly not material” to the government’s case.
Craig’s indictment stems from his work on behalf of the Ukrainian government and in coordination with Manafort after Craig left the White House in 2009 and joined the Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom law firm. He left the firm last year. Prosecutors allege he made false statements to Justice Department officials in 2013 and during a 2017 interview with Mueller’s office.
Manafort, who served as a political adviser to Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, helped arranged the hiring of Craig and Skadden in 2012 to write a report reviewing the jailing of Yanukovych’s political rival, Yulia Tymoshenko.
Manafort in March was sentenced to 7½ years in prison for conspiring to defraud the United States and tamper with witnesses in connection with his unregistered foreign lobbying and financial crimes.
Craig’s case is being prosecuted by the Justice Department’s national security division and the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington.
Prosecutors allege that interactions Craig had with the media to explain and publicize the report in 2012 triggered a requirement to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. The government alleged that Craig did not want to register because he believed it could prevent him from returning to government service, and that it could force him to reveal that a wealthy Ukrainian businessman had mostly funded the $4 million report.
Craig said he was not acting on Ukraine’s behalf when he briefed journalists and instead was correcting mischaracterizations of Skadden’s work on the report.
In a settlement with the Justice Department in January, Skadden paid $4.6 million and agreed it should have registered as a foreign agent.
Jackson, who also heard Manafort’s case, said she would aim for the mid-August trial after both sides requested it and the government said it expected the trial to last two weeks.
Jackson granted a defense request to lift a bar on travel outside of the Washington area pending trial, allowing Craig to travel throughout the United States upon notifying the court. However, she denied Craig’s request to keep a passport, requiring that he surrender it and file a motion if he wanted to travel abroad.
Taylor cited Craig’s public service, the consequences of the case to him, and the importance of trial, arguing, “There is no possibility that Mr. Craig is not going to appear for hearings and trial in this case.”