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Former Obama White House counsel Greg Craig indicted over foreign lobbying: Report
Marc Nozell / CCL
Finally, Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia collusion investigation has resulted in the indictment of a prominent Democrat from the Obama administration.
Former Obama White House counsel Gregory Craig was indicted Thursday by a federal grand jury for making false statements and concealing the nature of his work for the Ukrainian government. He is the first Democrat to become ensnared in Mueller’s special counsel probe.
The first to fall
Craig’s case is being handled by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Washington, which formally charged the 74-year-old attorney with lying to the National Security Division’s Foreign Agents Registration Act Unit of the Justice Department. Craig worked on behalf of then-Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, a Kremlin-aligned despot who was ultimately deposed for corruption and authoritarianism.
Yanukovych faced enormous international pressure for jailing a political rival, former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, in 2011. Working with his law firm, Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP, Craig helped draft a report that justified Tymoshenko’s imprisonment and sympathized with Yanukovych’s government.
Craig’s lawyers deny that their client was involved in a public relations effort on behalf of Yanukovych.
“Mr. Craig repeatedly refused requests that he participate in Ukraine’s media and lobbying campaign to promote the Tymoshenko Report,” they said.
The Manafort connection
Apparently, Craig was introduced to the Ukrainian Ministry of Justice through Paul Manafort, Trump’s short-lived campaign manager who was also involved with the Tymoshenko report and currently languishes in prison for some of the same charges Craig is now facing. According to his lawyers, Craig was only corralled into the special counsel probe because of his ties to Manafort.
The most serious indictments to stem from the special counsel’s two year Russia investigation belong to the former Trump campaign chairman. In addition to tax evasion and bank fraud, Manafort was convicted of conspiracy and failing to register as a foreign government agent, and Trump’s critics continue to hold these latter charges up as evidence of a larger collusion scheme.
However, when listing these very serious criminal offenses, Democrats and the mainstream press fail to mention that Manafort’s crimes occurred in collaboration with the Obama administration. In 2013, for instance, Manafort set up meetings between pro-Russia Ukrainian lobbyists and Obama officials, and he was even charged with failing to disclose a conference between Russia-friendly agents and President Obama himself.
Although he was deposed in 2014, Ukrainian business records show that Manafort continued to represent Yanukovych all the way up until 2016. He cut ties with the former Ukrainian president two months before he took over as Trump’s campaign manager.
Indeed, Craig should be considered the second pro-Russia foreign agent with ties to the Obama administration. His lawyers, however, believe that he should have been exonerated after prosecutors from the Southern District of New York (SDNY) briefly investigated their client and refused to issue indictments.
“This case was thoroughly investigated by the SDNY and 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,” Craig’s lawyers said in a statement before charges were filed. “Mr. Craig is not guilty of any charge and the government’s stubborn insistence on prosecuting Mr. Craig is a misguided abuse of prosecutorial discretion.”
In a January settlement, Craig’s former law firm agreed to pay the Justice Department $4.6 million for failing to register as foreign agents while working on behalf of the Ukrainian government. The firm’s partners claim their decision to abstain from registering was informed by “false and misleading oral and written statements” provided by Craig.
Mueller first referred Craig’s case to SDNY prosecutors, who have promised — without cause — to conduct a wide-ranging investigation of the Trump family in search of financial or legal improprieties. It came as no surprise, then, that the district court failed to find any wrongdoing from an Obama official. Mueller subsequently sent the matter to the U.S. Attorney in Washington.
Republicans have long maintained that Mueller was investigating the wrong political party when it comes to collusion with Moscow. In 2016, for instance, Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee paid for anti-Trump opposition research which was supplied by Russian sources and later used as the justification for wiretapping the Trump campaign.
Now that the special counsel has concluded its business, it is time for a fresh team of hand-picked prosecutors to investigate the Obama administration’s ties to Russia. Mr. Craig may be the first of many Obama surrogates to be swept up in this federal probe.
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