(Bloomberg) -- Gregory Craig, a prominent corporate lawyer and former adviser to Democratic presidents, expects to face criminal charges arising from his work for the former pro-Russian government of Ukraine, his attorneys said in a statement Wednesday evening.
The attorneys for Craig, who served as White House counsel for President Barack Obama and as a lawyer for Bill Clinton, also blasted the expected indictment as “a misguided abuse of prosecutorial discretion.”
“This case was thoroughly investigated” by the office of the U.S. Attorney in Manhattan, William Taylor and William Murphy, Craig’s lawyers, said in a joint statement. “That office decided not to pursue charges against Mr. Craig. We expect an indictment by the D.C. U.S. Attorney’s Office at the request of the National Security Division.” They said their client is not guilty of any charge.
Bill Miller, a spokesman for Washington U.S. Attorney Jessie Liu, declined to comment on the statement. The New York Times previously reported that Craig expects to be charged.
Craig’s former firm, Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom LLP, paid a fine in January and agreed to register as a lobbyist for a foreign government after admitting that it should have done so earlier for work it did with Paul Manafort to benefit Ukraine. Manafort, President Donald Trump’s onetime campaign chairman, admitted to illegally lobbying for that nation when he pleaded guilty to avoid a Washington trial in September.
Skadden had been hired by the government of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych to write a report on the fairness of that regime’s trial of his pro-Western predecessor, Yulia Tymoshenko. Craig oversaw that work.
The case grew out of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, which turned a spotlight on the rarely enforced Foreign Agent Registration Act. As part of that probe, Mueller brought FARA charges against Manafort for his work on behalf of Yanukovych and his pro-Russia Party of Regions.
Yanukovych’s government fell in 2014 amid widespread protests and he fled to Russia.
Mueller also brought FARA charges against former Manafort deputy Rick Gates as he sought to turn investigative targets into cooperators.
If he is indicted, Craig, who defended Clinton against impeachment and was Obama’s first White House counsel, would be the highest profile white-collar professional to be charged under the FARA law, but he’s unlikely to be the last.
Word of the possible charges came on a day when U.S. Attorney General William Barr said he was investigating whether the Obama administration’s Justice Department and FBI were effectively spying on the Trump campaign as it undertook an investigation into Russian interference with the 2016 election.
An indictment against Craig would be the first to spring from the Mueller probe since its conclusion last month. Barr has said he would release a redacted version of the special counsel’s report in the coming days.
Skadden’s review largely defended the prosecution and conviction of Tymoshenko, contradicting the view held by the U.S. and the European Union that the case against her was politically motivated.
Taylor and Murphy defended the Tymoshenko report as an independent assessment they said was critical of the trial and “caused unhappiness” in Ukraine’s Ministry of Justice.
“Mr. Craig repeatedly refused requests that he participate in Ukraine’s media and lobbying campaign to promote the Tymoshenko report,” Craig’s lawyers said, addressing the anticipated allegations against their client. “He spoke to reporters at the New York Times and was quoted on the record when the report was about to be released. He did this not at the direction or on behalf of Ukraine but to make certain that the Times would accurately summarize the report’s criticisms of the Tymoshenko trial and not rely on misinformation from Ukraine and its representatives.”
Taylor and Murphy also said their client was told in 2014 that he need not register as a foreign lobbyist.
Details about the Skadden report emerged as part of the investigation of Manafort. Alex van der Zwaan, a Dutch lawyer who worked at Skadden, admitted that he lied to prosecutors about his conversations with Gates. Van der Zwaan, who pleaded guilty, was sentenced to 30 days in prison.
The law firm’s $12,000 fee for the report was modest, just below the amount that required public bidding under Ukrainian law. But according to U.S. prosecutors, Skadden was paid more than $4.6 million for the work, largely through third-party payments. The firm has said it returned some funds it had held in escrow.
(Updates with reference to Yanukovych’s fall from power, other revisions, starting in eighth paragraph.)
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