Attorneys for former White House Counsel Gregory B. Craig said Wednesday that he expects to face federal charges in the coming days in relationship to legal work he did for the Ukrainian government in 2012.
The expected indictment — which his attorneys called “a misguided abuse of prosecutorial discretion” — stems from work Craig did with GOP lobbyist Paul Manafort on behalf of the Ukrainian Ministry of Justice in 2012.
At the time, Craig was a partner at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, the law firm he joined after ending his tenure as White House counsel for President Barack Obama. Manafort, the former campaign chairman to President Trump, pleaded guilty last year to charges related to his Ukraine lobbying.
In a statement, attorneys William W. Taylor III and William Murphy said they expect Craig, 74, will be indicted by the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington at the request of the Justice Department’s national security division.
That could not be independently corroborated. Bill Miller, a spokesman for U.S. Attorney Jessie K. Liu of the District, said the office had no comment.
“Mr. Craig is not guilty of any charge,” Craig’s attorneys said in their statement.
Craig resigned from Skadden in April 2018 amid a building investigation into whether the firm’s lawyers failed to register as foreign lobbyists for their Ukraine engagement. Prosecutors have been investigating whether Craig issued false statements to the Justice Department in 2013 as officials made inquiries to the firm about whether its work required public registration, people familiar with the case said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to describe the ongoing probe.
He would be the first prominent Democratic figure to be charged as a result of a foreign lobbying investigation spun out of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s probe into Russia interference in the 2016 presidential campaign.
His indictment would represent a dramatic turn for a member of the country’s most elite legal circles. Craig attended Yale Law School with Bill and Hillary Clinton and later worked in the Clinton State Department and White House. An early Obama supporter, he served for a year as his first White House counsel. He is also a veteran of the Washington-based law firm Williams and Connolly.
Last year, Mueller’s team prosecuted Manafort, who admitted that he had failed to properly register as a foreign lobbyist while working as a political consultant for Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, whose 2010 campaign Manafort helped advise. Last month, Manafort was sentenced to a total of 7½ years in prison for lobbying violations and financial crimes.
Craig’s firm was hired in 2012 by Yanukovych’s Justice Ministry to conduct a review of the prosecution of one of Yanukovych’s leading political rivals, Yulia Tymoshenko. The agreement included providing advice on improving prosecutions by the ministry, according to court filings.
Skadden produced a 187-page white paper that offered a mixed review of the trial and imprisonment of Tymoshenko, claiming the analysis it conducted of the case was independent.
But human rights advocates alleged the report had been engineered by Yanukovych’s government and whitewashed the jailing of his political opponent.
And Manafort eventually admitted that he and other lobbyists used the Skadden report as part of a broad effort to improve Yanukovych’s reputation in the West, which had suffered after the widely condemned jailing of Tymoshenko. Manafort agreed they failed to disclose their lobbying effort, which included disseminating the Skadden report to U.S. government officials.
Craig came under scrutiny in part for contact he had in December 2012 with reporters, particularly at the New York Times, to explain the content of the report.
After Skadden was mentioned in news coverage, the Justice Department sought information from the law firm about whether its work, including the media contacts, required the lawyers to have registered as foreign lobbyists.
Craig and DOJ officials exchanged a series of letters about the topic through 2013, correspondence reviewed by The Washington Post shows.
In a letter sent to the Justice Department in October 2013, and obtained by The Post, Craig wrote that his media contacts came in response “to inaccuracies in U.S. news reports” and that he was “in no way serving as an agent for Ukraine.”
In response, a Justice Department official sent Craig a letter in January 2014 indicating that the government agency found the firm had “no present obligation to register under FARA,” the Foreign Agents Registration Act.
But subsequently, as prosecutors began scrutinizing the work of Manafort and his associates in Ukraine, they reexamined the role of Craig’s firm, including whether Craig was honest during his interactions with the Justice Department over his registration requirements in 2013.
Skadden in January reached a settlement with the Justice Department, admitting it should have registered for its work in 2012 and 2013, and agreed to turn over the $4.6 million in fees it made for the report in exchange for facing no criminal charges. In its settlement, Skadden agreed that Justice’s 2014 finding that the firm did not need to register came after the agency relied on “false and misleading oral and written statements” made by Craig.
In their statement Wednesday, Craig’s attorneys said his work on the Tymoshenko case came “as an independent expert on the rule of law, not as an advocate for the client” and that he refused requests to participate in Ukraine’s lobbying around the report.
They said Craig “did not lie to his former firm or the government” and said his contact with the New York Times was intended to ensure the newspaper accurately summarized the way the report criticized Tymoshenko’s trial.
The Ukrainian government reported that Skadden was paid just $12,000 for the report, but prosecutors have said that Manafort used an offshore account to help route more than $4 million to the law firm to pay for the work.
Another Skadden lawyer, Alex van der Zwaan, pleaded guilty in 2018 to lying to the FBI about his work on the report, agreeing that he had slipped an early copy to Manafort to assist in his pro-Yanukovych lobby efforts and later deleted emails related to the effort. He served 30 days in prison.
Mueller’s office referred Craig’s case last year to prosecutors in Manhattan as Mueller worked to bring his investigation to a close, people familiar with the matter have said. The case was then transferred back to prosecutors in Washington.
Separately, prosecutors in New York have been investigating whether FARA rules were violated by two other prominent Washington figures: Tony Podesta, a Democratic lobbyist who once owned one of Washington’s leading firms, and Vin Weber, a former Republican congressman, who helps lead the Washington office of Mercury LLC.
Representatives for Podesta and Weber have said they have cooperated with prosecutors and believe that their clients followed the law.
Spencer S. Hsu contributed to this report.