Indictment of Obama official in Mueller probe may pose a dilemma for Trump, so he takes it out on media

Christopher Wilson
Senior Writer
Attorney Gregory Craig, representing Ret. Marine Gen. James Cartwright, arrives at court in Washington in October 2016. (Photo: AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Confronted with the novel situation of the special counsel's office — also known to Trump as the Corrupt Angry Democratic Witch Hunt — going after a member of Barack Obama's administration, President Trump reacted with a tweet complaining about how the New York Times played the story in its Friday editions.

“President Obama’s top White House lawyer, Gregory B. Craig, was indicted yesterday on very serious charges,” wrote Trump Friday morning. “This is a really big story, but the Fake News New York Times didn’t even put it on page one, rather page 16. @washingtonpost not much better, ‘tiny’ page one. Corrupt News!”

Craig, who was White House counsel during Obama’s first year in office, was indicted Thursday by federal prosecutors in the District of Columbia and charged with lying to the Justice Department about work he did for the government of Ukraine. While the charges were not filed by special counsel Robert Mueller's office, they arose from his investigation into the 2016 election. The complaint alleges that Craig did not register as an agent for the Ukraine government, partially because he believed it might hurt his chances at getting a job in the federal government. (Obama had restricted the work former lobbyists could do during his administration.)

Craig has denied the charges, calling them “unprecedented and unjustified” in a statement posted to YouTube. Craig declined to accept a plea deal and added that he believed “both the judge and the jury will agree with me.” His lawyer entered a not-guilty plea for him on Friday.

The indictment of an Obama aide because of the special counsel’s investigation would appear to undercut Trump’s message that Mueller, a Republican who was appointed to head the FBI by President George W. Bush, is actually a far-left Democratic operative seeking to bring him down. Trump’s messaging on the special counsel has oscillated wildly depending on the news of the day, from asserting that Mueller would fabricate evidence against him to claiming vindication from the report after Attorney General William Barr summarized the findings as favorable to the president. (After days of positive headlines for the administration, Barr later walked back his claims, saying he never intended to summarize the findings.)

Although Trump — who apparently has yet to read Mueller’s report — initially said he wanted it released because it “totally exonerated” him, he has become notably less enthusiastic, predicting that Democrats who are demanding to see the full 300-plus pages “will never be satisfied.” While the House of Representatives voted 420-0 in a nonbinding resolution saying the report should be released, a vote on the measure has been blocked repeatedly in the Senate.

The indictment of Craig evidently heightened the president’s sense of what psychologists call cognitive dissonance, a situation in which evidence (the indictment of a prominent Democratic official) conflicts with strongly held beliefs (that the special counsel was out to destroy him).

Craig was charged with concealing information from the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) Unit of the Justice Department about his work with Ukraine in 2012. Craig’s law firm, Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP, entered into a $4.6 million civil settlement with the Justice Department in January, acknowledging it misled the Justice Department about its Ukraine work. Craig, who also worked as a senior legal adviser to President Bill Clinton, left the firm in April 2018.

Undisclosed ties to Ukraine also helped bring down former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort. After being indicted by the special counsel, Manafort pleaded guilty to failing to register as an agent of the Ukrainian government during a period in which he earned millions in his role as a lobbyist. Craig was interviewed multiple times by Mueller's team and faces up to five years in prison if convicted.

Although Trump was critical of the Times for placing the Craig story on page 16, he did not mention a story in Thursday’s paper about the president’s sister retiring as a federal judge shortly after an inquiry into alleged fraud by the Trump family. It ran on page 19.

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