Gregory Craig, the first White House counsel under former President Barack Obama, was indicted on Thursday for making false statements to investigators in a case stemming from the special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.
The indictment is related to lobbying work that Craig’s former law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom did with former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort for the Ukrainian government in 2012.
So far, several associates of President Donald Trump have been indicted or have pleaded guilty as part of the Russia investigation or in cases stemming from the inquiry. Craig is the first prominent Democrat to join that group.
Craig resigned from Skadden in April 2018, and his lawyers say he is innocent of any wrongdoing.
“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,” Craig’s lawyers said in a statement.
The law firm was catapulted into the spotlight in the Russia probe when the Dutch lawyer Alex van der Zwaan pleaded guilty to making false statements to the FBI in relation to his work for the firm and Manafort.
In 2012, Manafort asked Skadden to compile a report about the 2011 trial of former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko — an effort Van der Zwaan was involved in. Manafort’s request was made at the behest of Viktor Yanukovych, the Ukrainian president at the time and Tymoshenko’s rival in the country’s 2010 election.
Tymoshenko was jailed in 2011 after the Ukrainian government convicted her of abuse of power. Her trial and subsequent conviction were criticized by human-rights groups and deemed politically motivated by the US, the UK, German, Italy, Spain, and other European countries.
The report Skadden produced for Manafort found that while some of Tymoshenko’s rights were violated during the trial, the conviction was valid based on the evidence. But the scandal over the Tymoshenko report grew when it emerged that the former Ukrainian Justice Minister Oleksandr Lavrynovych was charged with embezzling more than $1 million to pay the law firm for its work.
Skadden has done a significant amount of consulting for Russian oligarchs in Moscow and abroad. It has also represented Alfa-Bank, a large Russian bank linked to the Kremlin, in a number of financial disputes stretching back years.
After facing mounting pressure from prosecutors, Skadden refunded about half the amount it was paid for the Tymoshenko report to the Ukrainian government in June 2017. Three months later, Mueller’s office raised more questions to Skadden about its work for Yanukovych in 2012.
In January, Skadden reached a settlement with the Justice Department to pay the government $4.6 million — the amount the firm was paid for the Ukraine work — and retroactively registered as a foreign agent for Ukraine.
Manafort eventually said Skadden’s report was used to bolster Yanukovych’s influence in the West. He was sentenced earlier this year to 7 1/2 years in federal prison for his financial crimes related to his foreign lobbying work.