Former Obama White House counsel Greg Craig was the first to suggest leaking a copy of a politically sensitive report prepared on behalf of the Ukrainian government, a key witness testified Thursday, tying the D.C. lawyer to a decision that prosecutors say should have been disclosed to federal investigators.
Mr. Craig is on trial on a charge of lying to those Justice Department investigators, in a case that stemmed from the special counsel’s investigation into Russian election meddling.
Rick Gates, a former top Trump aide, testified that Mr. Craig was involved in a 2012 decision on how to publicize work done for the government of Ukraine. Mr. Craig was in private practice at the time, having left his job as chief counsel at the White House.
In particular, Mr. Craig suggested leaking the work — a report on Ukraine’s prosecution of a former prime minister — to New York Times reporter David Sanger, Gates said. He testified that Mr. Craig wanted to control public perception of the report, and figured he’d get a fair shake in the New York paper.
“Mr. Craig had named a reporter from The New York Times as somebody who he had a specific relationship with that could help with that effort,” Gates said.
Prosecutors, during the two-week-old trial, say those sorts of actions should have required Mr. Craig to register as a foreign lobbyist, since he was working to advance the interests of Ukrainian officials.
He didn’t register because he would have to disclose that he was working to improve the image of then-Ukrainian President Yanukovych, in a project that also involved Gates and Paul Manafort, who years later would become President Trump’s campaign chairman.
Defense attorneys say Mr. Craig’s interactions with the Times reporter, including hand-delivering an advanced copy of the report to the journalist’s Washington home, was done out of fear of Gates and Manafort misrepresenting the findings.
But Gates said Mr. Craig was thinking strategically, trying to bolster the report’s bona fides by going to Mr. Sanger.
“We wouldn’t necessarily get a good article, but we would get a fair article,” Gates said. “He was very credible in the space and that would help with the [public relations] effort.”
Mr. Craig’s strategy worked, Gates testified. Mr. Sanger wrote a fair review of the report, and other newspapers followed suit with positive articles.
“From our standpoint, the success of it was very great,” Gates told the courtroom.
Gates admitted that Mr. Craig wasn’t on board with many of the public relations activities related to the report’s rollout But he insisted the outreach to Mr. Sanger was part of their overall efforts.
Gates’ turn as a prosecution witness was part of his plea agreement with federal prosecutors to settle charges of money laundering, failing to report accounts and lying to investigators. Gates agreed to cooperate with the government, and he said Thursday he’s met with federal prosecutors more than 40 times in the past two years.
During cross-examination, defense lawyer Paula Junghans attacked Gate’s credibility as a convict with a plea deal.
“When it comes to crimes, you’ve committed quite a few, haven’t you?” she told the witness.
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