Ex-Obama counsel indicted for false statements, concealing Ukraine work

Former Obama White House counsel Gregory Craig was indicted Thursday on charges that he made false statements to investigators and concealed information about his work for Ukrainian officials, the Justice Department announced.

Prosecutors said Craig was indicted over statements he made to the Justice Department’s Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) Unit. He faces up to five years in prison for each of the two charged offenses and will be arraigned at a later date.

The former White House counsel was reportedly investigated by special counsel Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE before the case was referred to the Southern District of New York and then back to prosecutors in Washington, D.C.

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Craig's attorneys had said Wednesday that they believed Craig would be indicted, but denied any wrongdoing on the part of their client. 

The D.C. lawyer, who served as Obama's White House counsel in 2009 and 2010, is the first known major Democratic figure to be charged in one of the probes stemming from Mueller’s investigation. He was indicted by a grand jury in Washington.

Craig was a partner at the New York-based law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP, which assisted GOP lobbyist and former Trump campaign chairman Paul ManafortPaul John ManafortEx-Obama White House counsel's trial set for August House Dem calls on lawmakers to 'insulate' election process following Mueller report New normal: A president can freely interfere with investigations without going to jail MORE in his work lobbying for pro-Russia politicians in Ukraine.

The prominent law firm agreed earlier this year to register as a foreign agent and paid a $4.6 million settlement in the case over questions on whether it had misrepresented its work for the Ukrainian politicians to federal investigators. The firm reportedly blamed Craig over the misleading information, and he left the practice in 2018 amid the investigation.

Manafort pleaded guilty last year to a series of charges related to his lobbying work for former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych and his political party in Ukraine. 

The businessman had hired Skadden to issue a report on behalf of the Ukrainian government that defended its imprisonment of Yanukovych’s political opponent, Yulia Tymoshenko, a former prime minister.

The indictment claims that Craig and other members of the law firm exchanged emails in February 2012 discussing potential FARA registration. And in April 2012, Craig signed a formal letter with the Ministry of Justice of Ukraine, which “specifically stated that Craig and the Law Firm would not perform work requiring them to register under FARA.”

Federal prosecutors say that shortly afterward, Craig sought further advice on whether he and other members of the law firm should register under FARA, and was told that he should not do any public relations work.

Craig stopped working on the project tied to Tymoshenko’s prosecution in August 2012, saying that he was concerned the work would become public “and that would do enormous damage to the credibility of [the Report].”

And he and the co-author of the report allegedly created backdated documents to try and create the appearance that they were funded by the Ukrainian government, and not a private Ukrainian citizen.

“A truthful and complete FARA registration by Craig would have made a public record of the Private Ukrainian’s role in funding the report, and the amounts he paid to the Law Firm,” the indictment reads.

The indictment also alleges that Craig reached out to a reporter and gave an on-the-record interview about the report on Tymoshenko ahead of its release in December 2012, and hand-delivered the reporter a copy of the report.

“As a result of these acts in furtherance of Ukraine’s public relations strategy regarding the Report, Craig had an obligation under FARA to register as an agent of Ukraine,” the indictment reads.

The federal prosecutors also allege that Craig shared “false and misleading descriptions” and withheld information from other members of the law firm surrounding his media contacts.

They claim that in response to a request from DOJ’s FARA unit about the law firm’s lobbying work, the practice’s response — signed by Craig — “made no reference to Craig’s contacts with the U.S. media surrounding the release of the Report or Craig’s involvement in the PR Firm’s media plan.”

And they also allege that Craig made other false and misleading statements in future responses given to the FARA division, including that the firm did not reach out to any members of the media.

Craig’s lawyers in a statement called the indictment “itself unfair and misleading.”

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

Updated: 5 p.m.