Judge dismisses one count against ex-Obama counsel Greg Craig days before trial
A federal judge on Tuesday dismissed one of two counts against ex-Obama lawyer Greg Craig less than a week before the scheduled start of his trial for allegedly making false statements about his work on behalf former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.
Dismissing one of the counts, U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson cited the “ambiguity concerning the breadth of the provision” that Craig was charged under, saying “the rule of lenity requires the dismissal of the count.”
Craig, a former White House counsel for then-President Barack Obama, pleaded not guilty to the charges in April.
The first count accuses Craig of engaging in a scheme to “knowingly and willfully falsify, conceal, and cover up…material facts” to avoid registering as a foreign agent. The second count accused Craig of making false statements in an Oct. 11, 2013 letter furnished to the DOJ National Security Division’s Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) Unit.
Craig’s legal team had filed a motion requesting both counts be dismissed. Jackson dismissed only the second count. Craig, whose trial is scheduled to begin Monday, will still go on trial for the other count.
During a hearing earlier in the day, prosecutors offered a potential preview of the government’s case, arguing Craig acted “at the direction” of then-GOP lobbyist Paul Manafort while working on behalf of the Russian-backed Yanukovych.
After leaving the White House, Craig’s business interests intersected with Manafort, who later became chairman of Donald Trump’s presidential candidate and was convicted last year of bank and tax fraud in case brought by then-Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Manafort subsequently pleaded guilty to crimes related to foreign lobbying and witness tampering.
The FARA Unit is responsible for enforcing foreign lobbying laws that require the disclosure of certain overseas activity, including public relations work for foreign entities. At issue were Craig’s 2012 lobbying and media contacts on behalf of Yanukovych, which took place after Craig left the White House.
Prosecutors on Tuesday told Jackson that Craig engaged in a “scheme to conceal [his] registration obligation” and claimed Craig was asked “to act at the direction of Paul Manafort and Ukraine to bolster the authenticity” of a report Craig’s firm was working on, which would ultimately speak positively about Yanukovych, who was Manafort’s client.
The prosecution also said Craig participated in the media roll-out of that report by choosing to leak specific information to New York Times reporter David Sanger, with whom Craig was said to have had a “trusted relationship.”
Much of Tuesday’s hearing included legal arguments over which expert witnesses will be allowed to testify for the defense.