8/22/2019 1:26:00 PM Key Mueller cooperator Gates testitifes in DC trial
WASHINGTON (AP) — Rick Gates, a key cooperator in special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, testified Thursday against a prominent Washington attorney accused of concealing from the Justice Department work done for the Ukrainian government.
Gates, a former campaign aide to President Donald Trump who pleaded guilty last year in Mueller’s investigation, took the stand as a government witness against Greg Craig, in the latest installment of an effort to secure leniency from the Justice Department for the crimes he admitted to in February 2018 as a co-defendant of Paul Manfort.
Gates is a former business associate of Manafort, a former Trump campaign chairman and high-flying international political consultant. He also pleaded guilty in Mueller’s probe and has been sentenced to more than seven years in prison.
The prosecution of Craig, a former White House counsel under President Barack Obama with a long history of representing high-profile clients, is part of a Justice Department crackdown on unregistered lobbying on behalf of foreign governments and other entities.
The work that drew the Justice Department’s attention occurred in 2012, when Craig and his law firm at the time — Skadden, Arps, Meagher and Flom — were hired by the government of Ukraine to write a report on the prosecution of Yulia Tymoshenko, a former Ukrainian prime minister. Tymoshenko was a political opponent of then-Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, a longtime Manafort patron. The report was billed as independent, but critics have said it whitewashed a politically motivated prosecution.
Craig, who has called the prosecution unprecedented and unjustified, decided that he did not need to register the work with the Justice Department. The department enforces a 1930s law known as the Foreign Agents Registration Act, which is meant to ensure that Americans know when foreign entities are trying to influence public opinion or policymakers. Prosecutors have not charged him with failing to register, though they said he gave the Justice Department misleading information about the work.
Gates said Manafort arranged for the hiring of Skadden to prepare the report, and that he served as an intermediary for the firm and worked with Craig on a publicity plan for the document. That included giving an embargoed copy to New York Times reporter David Sanger. Though the article was not entirely favorable, Gates said he considered the strategy a success given the credibility he believed was associated with the publication and the reporter.
“From our standpoint, the success of it was very great,” Gates said.
When a prosecutor asked whether Craig had carried out the role he had committed to with regard to The Times, Gates answered, “Yes, he did.”
Craig was charged in April in a two-count indictment, but the judge overseeing the case dismissed one of the charges before trial. Craig’s lawyers deny that he lied to the government or his law firm. They acknowledged that Craig spoke to reporters about the report but denied it was part of a public relations campaign that would run afoul of the law.
During cross-examination, a lawyer for Craig, Paula Junghans, sought to undermine Gates’s credibility by noting the wide-ranging tax and financial fraud conspiracy he admitted to last year, and the fact that prosecutors have agreed not to charge him with certain conduct in exchange for his cooperation.
When it comes to crimes, Junghans said, “You’ve committed quite a few, haven’t you?”