Greg Craig, a former White House counsel in the Obama administration, was charged on Thursday with lying about work he performed in 2012 for Ukraine in a case that grew out of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Russian Federation investigation.
Failing to register as a foreign agent is a crime, but such charges had fallen off the radar under a lax enforcement regime until Mueller's team made aggressive use of the statue, particularly in the prosecution of former Trump Campaign Chair Paul Manafort.
If convicted, Mr. Craig could face up to five years in prison for each charge.
In the statement, his attorneys, William Taylor and William Murphy, said, "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".
Reports detailed the case against 74-year-old Gregory Craig, who served as an Obama administration White House counsel from 2009 to 2010. Before working for the 44th president, he had been a senior legal adviser to the President Bill Clinton during his time in the Oval Office. In private practice, his clients have included former North Carolina Sen. He is also a veteran of the Washington-based law firm Williams and Connolly.
But as prosecutors began scrutinizing the work of Manafort and his associates in Ukraine, they reexamined the role of Craig's firm, including whether Craig was honest during his interactions with the Justice Department over his registration requirements in 2013.
Manafort said the report, which was criticized as promoting the interests of Yanukovych's government, was meant to strengthen the Ukrainian leader's ties to Western countries.
Craig came under scrutiny in part for contact he had in December 2012 with reporters, particularly at The New York Times, to explain the content of the report. He said he talked with the journalists because of inaccuracies and not to lobby on behalf of the Ukrainian government.
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Craig, who stepped down from the firm Skadden, Arps a year ago without explanation, is part of the latest investigation by authorities involving the Foreign Agents Registration Act, which requires disclosures by people in the US working for overseas entities.
Skadden in January reached a settlement with the justice department, admitting it should have registered, and agreed to turn over the fees it had earned in exchange for facing no criminal charges. The firm then wrote a letter to the department's FARA unit containing Craig's false and misleading statements, which ultimately allowed for him and the firm to avoid registering, the indictment said.
In the statement Wednesday, Craig's lawyers denied that he lied to the government or his firm.
On Wednesday, attorneys for Craig issued a statement in anticipation of charges, arguing that Craig acted only "as an independent expert on the rule of law, not as an advocate" for the Ukrainians.
The lawyers said the Justice Department's national security division pushed to indict Craig despite federal prosecutors in NY declining to bring charges, an assertion that couldn't immediately be verified.
In short, the indictment alleges, Craig withheld information he knew he should have given to the Justice Department and deliberately gave it other information he knew was false.
They said he spoke to reporters at The New York Times about the report to "make certain that the Times would accurately summarize the report's criticisms of the Tymoshenko trial and not rely on misinformation from Ukraine and its representatives". Attorney General William Barr is expected to release Mueller's final report within a week.