WASHINGTON — Former Obama White House counsel Gregory Craig was acquitted Wednesday of giving false information to federal authorities about his work on behalf of the Ukrainian government amid a new crackdown on illicit foreign influence.
The case against Craig, a high-powered Washington lawyer, was one of a handful of investigations that grew out of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Craig was acquitted after more than two weeks of testimony followed by less than five hours of deliberation. Craig faced trial in federal court for falsifying and concealing information about his work for the government of former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych. Americans who work on behalf of foreign governments within the United States are required to register with the Justice Department.
Prosecutors said Craig, with the prospect of million-dollar earnings, did work for Yanukovych's government and sought to conceal the extent of his dealings with Ukrainians to protect his reputation. Assistant U.S. Attorney Fernando Campoamor-Sanchez described Craig as a highly experienced attorney and a "man of precision" who very carefully crafted falsehoods to deceive the Justice Department.
Defense attorneys portrayed Craig as a man of integrity, ensnared in a web of dirty tricks spun by individuals who sought to lie on behalf of the Ukrainian government.
"We live in a cynical world," defense attorney William Murphy said, quoting Tom Cruise from the movie, "Jerry Maguire." But in the cynical world that is Washington, Craig stood out as a principled man who tells his friends and colleagues only the "candid truth," Murphy told jurors during closing arguments Tuesday.
The charge against Craig stemmed from work he did in 2012 on behalf of a pro-Russian political faction in Ukraine, part of an illicit lobbying effort by Paul Manafort, President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman who's serving a combined seven-year prison sentence after he was convicted of fraud, conspiracy and other charges in Virginia and Washington.
Craig's law firm, Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, was hired to write a report about the prosecution of former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who was sentenced to seven years in prison for abusing her power. The country's pro-Russia government sought to portray the trial as fair and improve Ukraine's public image amid an international public relations crisis. Craig refused to report the work to the Justice Department, as required by the Foreign Agents Registration Act, or FARA, according to the indictment.