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Obama WH counsel faces possible prosecution as result of Mueller probe
Marc Nozell / CCL
A Democrat who worked for President Barack Obama may face prosecution as a result of Robert Mueller’s ongoing investigation of alleged collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign.
Greg Craig, a former Obama White House lawyer, was referred to New York prosecutors by Mueller last year for lobbying work he did for Ukraine with Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign chairman who was recently sentenced to prison for a raft of business crimes.
A charging decision is expected within weeks. If indicted, Craig would be the first Democrat to get snagged by Mueller’s probe.
Dem faces possible prosecution in Mueller probe
Mueller referred Craig to Manhattan prosecutors last year for the lobbying work since it fell outside his prosecutorial mandate, and prosecutors transferred the case to the Justice Department in January, the New York Times reported Monday.
It’s an unlikely development in an investigation widely seen by Republicans as a prejudiced attack on president Trump. The lobbying might have eluded scrutiny if not for Craig’s association with former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.
The Craig case got off the ground as part of Mueller’s investigation into Manafort, who reportedly looped Craig in on lobbying work for Russia-backed former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych in 2012 and the Ukrainian Ministry of Justice. Manafort allegedly solicited Craig and his firm to write a report “to quell Western criticism of the prosecution and jailing by Mr. Yanukovych’s government of one of his rivals, the former Prime Minister Yulia V. Tymoshenko,” according to the Times. It was all part of an effort to bolster support in Washington for Yanukovych.
Craig performed the work as a lawyer for the firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom. Lobbyists are required by law under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, or FARA, to declare if they represent foreign entities, something Craig allegedly failed to do.
Craig left the firm last year when reports of his work with Manafort surfaced, and Skadden agreed to pay a $4.6 million settlement in January with the Justice Department to avoid prosecution and register its lobbying work in Ukraine under FARA. Separately, the firm advised two Democrat groups that are also facing legal scrutiny for lobbying on behalf of Ukraine, Mercury Public Affairs and the Podesta Group.
Manhattan prosecutors are investigating the groups for lobbying violations, and although the case hasn’t been moved to the DOJ, there was a “flurry” of interviews in January, Fox News reported. The groups registered their lobbying under a less stringent law than FARA on the advice of lawyers from Skadden, they said.
Manafort said he hired the two groups to lobby for Ukraine in the U.S, but the Podesta Group, which was founded by Tony Podesta, brother of Clinton campaign manager John Podesta, says they were misled about the nature of the work.
“Witch Hunt” to snag Democrat?
Unregistered foreign lobbying was rarely prosecuted until Mueller’s investigation into Manafort, who was recently sentenced to seven and a half years in prison for tax fraud and other finance crimes having to do with his lobbying work in Ukraine. The Justice Department is more aggressively seeking to prosecute foreign lobbying in the wake of Mueller’s probe, the Times reported.
It looks like Craig, if charged, could be the victim of a newfound interest in prosecuting lobbying violations at the Justice Department — all because an associate of Trump performed lobbying work in a former Soviet state. Trump’s new attorney general William Barr is prioritizing FARA violations, the Times reported.
Craig was White House counsel to Obama from 2009 to 2010 and also worked on Bill Clinton’s defense against impeachment. He is not suspected of collusion.
Lying to Congress is another crime that was not usually prosecuted until Mueller’s probe. Several of Trump’s associates, many of whom have been charged for process crimes rather than anything to do with collusion, have had their lives flipped upside down because of the new standard. Roger Stone’s home was the scene of a dramatic, armed raid for that charge.
If charged, Craig would be the first Democrat to be prosecuted as a result of Mueller’s investigation, a notable development given what some see as a pattern of reckless partisan prosecution against Trump and his associates. Charges against a Democrat may slighty undermine those accusations, but likely wouldn’t change the minds of those already convinced that Mueller’s probe was political from its inception.
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