/Judge blocks evidence that Greg Craig sought job for Manafort daughter

Judge blocks evidence that Greg Craig sought job for Manafort daughter

Greg Craig

Zach Gibson/Getty Images

07/10/2019 07:07 PM EDT

A federal judge on Wednesday granted a defense motion to keep jurors from hearing about former White House Counsel Greg Craig’s efforts to get a job for Paul Manafort’s daughter at Craig’s law firm while Craig was engaged in a multimillion-dollar assignment for the government of Ukraine.

Craig is set to go on trial in Washington next month on two felony charges alleging that he made false and misleading statements to the Justice Department in connection with the project to prepare a report for public release on a controversial prosecution in Ukraine that many critics regarded as politically motivated.

U.S. prosecutors wanted to buttress their case against Craig by telling jurors that the veteran Washington lawyer intervened with his Skadden Arps colleagues at Manafort’s request, urging them to hire Andrea Manafort, a new law school graduate, as an associate in 2012.

“It shows he is willing to act at Mr. Manafort’s request and Mr. Manafort’s behest,” prosecutor Fernando Campoamor-Sanchez said.

Campoamor-Sanchez said the episode with Andrea Manafort supported the notion that Craig was acting for Paul Manafort when Craig contacted New York Times reporter David Sanger about the Ukraine report in 2012. The prosecutor said Craig is expected to testify at trial that he made that contact to protect his own reputation, not on behalf of Ukraine.

“There’s quite a similarity between both things,” Campoamor-Sanchez insisted.

But U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson was unconvinced that the job offer and ultimate hiring of Andrea Manafort needed to be broached in front of the jury to point to Craig’s desire to satisfy her father, who played a role in retaining Skadden for the Ukraine report.

“It seems to me you would have other evidence you can rely on that would make the point that he wanted to keep Mr. Manafort happy,” said Jackson, who handled one of the two cases that wound up with a seven-and-a-half year prison sentence for the former Trump campaign chief.

“Seems to me the whole business with the daughter is a sideshow,” the judge said, also calling it “prejudicial” and “a waste of time.”

“I find the probative value of the evidence to be quite minimal. … It’s hard to characterize it as much more than an effort to go after the defendant’s character in general,” Jackson added.

Although Jackson ruled in favor of Craig on the issue, she expressed displeasure with his defense team for putting Andrea Manafort Shand’s name in a court filing after prosecutors omitted it from an earlier submission, simply describing her as “a relative” of Manafort.

Jackson asked defense attorney Adam Abelson what the purpose was of including the name. He said that it was already widely known and reported, so it seemed pointless to omit it.

Jackson also gave a tongue-lashing to prosecutors about putting extensive evidence into public pleadings and to defense lawyers for the tone of some of their attacks on the prosecution.

“I’ve probably had my fill of colorful verbs and adjectives and adverbs,” the judge said at the outset of Wednesday’s hearing. “The defense, in particular, has laid on a hefty dose of condescension over everything. I don’t think we need to hear that kind of tone today.”

“There’s been a lot of using the docket to say: ‘This is my case and [here’s how] I’m going to win it,” she complained. “I’m just not sure that’s what the docket is for.”

In another ruling Wednesday, Jackson declined a defense request to strike language from the indictment claiming that, during a meeting with special counsel Robert Mueller’s team in 2017, Craig repeated false and misleading statements about his Ukraine work. However, the judge has not yet ruled on whether the comments to Mueller’s investigators can be mentioned at the trial, set to open Aug. 11.

The nearly three-hour-long court session delved into a slew of complicated legal issues related to the case, including pivotal defense motions to throw out each of the two counts in the indictment.

Jackson made no immediate rulings on those, but there were hints she might grant a motion by Craig’s lawyers arguing that an allegedly false and misleading letter he sent to the Justice Department about the Ukraine work did not violate a special statute for inaccurate submissions under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. Craig’s defense contends that because he was under no legal obligation to submit the letter, it couldn’t run afoul of the FARA false-statement law.

“There’s no provision of FARA that dictates or governs what must be said in a responsive letter,” Craig lawyer William Murphy said. “It doesn’t apply to a letter that’s not defined by the statute.”

Murphy also argued that if the law was vague on the point, the vagueness should redound to Craig’s benefit, knocking out that count of the indictment.

However, prosecutor Jason McCullough contended that Craig’s letter could and did amount to a false statement under the foreign-agent law.

“From the beginning Mr. Craig was aware that the FARA unit was looking at whether he had an obligation to register,” McCullough said. “That is front and center to the initial inquiry to Mr. Craig. The letter filed in response to that fell squarely within the meaning of this statute.”

But the judge noted that the October 2013 letter really wasn’t in response to any specific questions from the Justice Department and was essentially a follow-up on a meeting Craig and other Skadden lawyers attended to talk about why they believed no FARA registration was needed. While making no ruling on the point, she suggested that such a submission seemed too spontaneous to be considered a formal FARA filing.

Craig’s report on Ukraine’s handling of the corruption trial of Yulia Tymoshenko, a political rival to the country’s then-president, Viktor Yanukovych, came years after Craig’s 2009 stint as President Barack Obama’s White House counsel and years before Paul Manafort became Donald Trump’s campaign chairman in 2016.

Defense attorneys seemed to find less traction with their arguments against the first count in the indictment — a charge that Craig used a scheme to deceive officials about what he actually did to promote his report on Tymoshenko in U.S. media outlets.

Craig’s lawyers claim that charge is defective because his statements to Justice Department officials about media outreach were literally true and he had no legal duty to volunteer all relevant details of the work done by him or others. His attorneys have repeatedly noted that a decade-old ruling stemming from the Jack Abramoff lobbying affair found that omissions in statements to government officials are prosecutable only where there is some legal obligation to answer the government’s questions.

“There must be a specific duty to disclose specific facts,” Craig lawyer William Taylor said, summarizing the decision in a case against David Safavian, a General Services Administration official. “You can’t prosecute someone for not saying something they’re not asked.”

“You’re saying … he can answer them halfway and not all the way?” Jackson asked skeptically.

Prosecutor Molly Gaston said it was clear that a meeting Craig and other lawyers attended in October 2013 was part of an effort to enforce the foreign-agent-registration law.

“This was a law enforcement inquiry by the FARA unit,” Gaston said, noting the officials’ initial view that Craig illegally failed to register for the Ukraine-related work. “If a statute creates a duty, it’s not permissible to engage in this kind of cute, cat-and-mouse game.”

Jackson sounded mystified by aspects of the 2008 D.C. Circuit ruling that the defense says is crucial to the case against Craig.

“I read the opinion at least 20 times,” the frustrated jurist said. “Can you tell me what the reasoning is?”

Please follow and like us:
Original Source