Former White House counsel for Obama charged in Mueller-related case

Jon Swaine in New York

Gregory Craig, a former White House counsel to Barack Obama, has been charged with lying to US authorities about his work alongside Paul Manafort for pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine.

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Craig, 74, was indicted by a grand jury in Washington on Thursday following an investigation that grew out of Robert Mueller’s inquiry into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. He has denied wrongdoing.

He is the first prominent Democrat to face criminal prosecution as a result of Mueller’s investigation, which led to the conviction of Manafort, Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, for a series of financial crimes.

Craig is charged with giving false information to the justice department officials who regulate work in the US by lobbyists, lawyers and other representatives of foreigners under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (Fara). He is also charged with concealing details of his work from the same officials.

Attorneys for Craig said in a statement that the charges were unfair and that prosecutors had chosen to omit evidence that was favourable to him.

“Mr Craig had no interest in misleading the Fara unit because he had not done anything that required his registration,” the attorneys said. “That is what this trial will be all about.”

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Craig worked in 2012 for Ukraine’s ministry of justice while he was a partner at the prestigious law firm Skadden Arps. Manafort, a veteran Republican operative, meanwhile worked as a consultant to Viktor Yanukovych, Ukraine’s pro-Kremlin president, who was later ousted.

A team at Skadden produced a report to help the Yanukovych government defend its prosecution of a former Ukrainian prime minister, which critics said had been politically motivated. Craig also coordinated public relations work to boost the government’s image.

Craig wanted to avoid registering as a foreign agent in order to protect his ability to work in the US government in the future, according to the indictment, and so Skadden could avoid disclosing the $4m it was secretly receiving for its work from a wealthy Yanukovych backer.

When Skadden was asked by the Fara unit for information on its Ukraine work, the firm submitted a response signed by Craig that failed to disclose Craig’s contacts with US media on behalf of Ukraine as part of a public relations strategy.

Skadden Arps reached an agreement with the justice department in January this year to avoid prosecution. The deal forced the law firm to turn over the more than $4.5m it was paid by Ukraine and to register as a foreign agent retroactively. Craig has since left the firm.

Prosecutors said on Thursday that, if convicted, Craig faced sentences of up to five years’ imprisonment for each charge. He could also be fined up to $100,000 and $250,000 for the respective charges.

Manafort and his deputy, Rick Gates, were later charged by the US with money laundering in relation to their payment for work in Ukraine. Manafort was convicted and Gates pleaded guilty to lesser charges.