WASHINGTON - Gregory Craig, the former White House counsel accused of misleading the U.S. about work he did for a pro-Russia government in Ukraine, asked a judge to throw out the two-count criminal indictment against him.
Craig's lawyers told U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson on Wednesday the charges are technically flawed and their client is being accused of failing to disclose information he hadn't been asked about and had no duty to reveal to enforcers of the Foreign Agents Registration Act.
"You can't prosecute somebody for not saying something they were not asked," defense lawyer William Taylor told Jackson during a nearly three-hour hearing.
Prosecutors claim Craig, while a partner at Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom LLP, failed to truthfully describe the extent of the work he did for the regime of former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych after it came under fire for prosecuting political rival Yulia Tymoshenko.
Craig, who worked in the White House under President Barack Obama, is the only prominent Democrat indicted on charges arising from former special counsel Robert Mueller's two-year probe of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
In court on Wednesday, prosecutors pushed back on Craig's assertion that he didn't receive adequate warning of what information was sought by the government's Foreign Agents Registration Act unit.
"The FARA unit was very specific about the information it was requesting," Justice Department lawyer Molly Gaston told Jackson at the Wednesday hearing. Over time the unit became more and more specific about the information they needed under a disclosure statute, she said.
"What notice did Mr. Craig have that he was under an obligation to provide every jot and tittle" the FARA unit wanted to know about, Taylor's co-counsel, William Murphy, later asked. Craig's lawyers also assert that prosecutors waited too long to bring one charge and that the statute underlying the other charge isn't clear enough to be enforceable.
Craig and his firm had been recruited by Paul Manafort to produce a favorable assessment of the Tymoshenko case. Manafort, who lobbied for Yanukovych and his party, would go on to work as campaign chairman for President Donald Trump. He was convicted last year on bank and tax fraud charges and later pleaded guilty to illegal lobbying and other crimes. He is serving a 7 1/2-year prison sentence.
In January, Skadden paid $4.6 million and agreed to register as a lobbyist for a foreign government as part of a Justice Department settlement. The firm admitted it should have registered earlier for the work it did to benefit Ukraine. Craig no longer works at Skadden.
Craig, 74, was charged in April and is scheduled to stand trial next month. He faces as many as five years in prison on each count if convicted.
While Jackson didn't rule on the motion to dismiss the case, she did grant the defense's request to bar prosecutors from introducing certain evidence at trial. That is evidence supporting their claim that Craig was so in thrall to Manafort that he got his daughter a job in Skadden after it had rejected her.
Prosecutors argued the episode showed the lengths to which Craig was willing to go to satisfy his client. Jackson ruled the issue was more prejudicial than likely to be useful as evidence.
Visit Bloomberg News at www.bloomberg.com