A federal jury acquitted President Obama’s former White House counsel Greg Craig on one felony count of lying to the Justice Department about his work for the Ukraine government in 2012.
The verdict Wednesday is vindication for the longtime Washington power broker who is the only Democrat to be charged among the cases that grew out of former special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation. For the Justice Department, the verdict is a blow to its efforts to ramp up prosecution of foreign lobbying cases.
A jury of nine men and three women returned the verdict after nearly four hours of deliberation, ending the three-week trial in Washington. Prosecutors presented 16 witnesses while the defense offered five — Mr. Craig and four character witnesses.
Upon hearing the acquittal, Mr. Craig hugged his attorneys and beamed a huge smile even as he was on the verge of tears. He was overcome with emotion while speaking to reporters outside the courthouse.
“I’d like to thank the jury for their service and for justice in this case. I’m grateful to them in so many ways,” he said before thanking his family and attorneys for their support.
Shortly after the verdict, Mr. Craig’s attorneys assailed the Justice Department for still pursuing the case even though federal prosecutors in New York had decided against it.
“The question that you need to ask isn’t why this jury acquitted Greg Craig, but why the Department of Justice brought this case against an innocent man in the first place,” said attorney William Taylor. He said the department decided “it had to hound this man and his family without any evidence and without any purpose.”
Prosecutors showed no reaction and did not comment after the verdict.
Prosecutors said Mr. Craig concealed facts from the Justice Department’s Foreign Agents Registration Act unit in 2013 to avoid registering as a foreign agent of the Ukrainian government. Mr. Craig prepared a politically sensitive report in 2012 evaluating the country’s prosecution of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.
The government claimed Mr. Craig sought to dodge registering as a foreign agent because he would have to disclose embarrassing details about the project, including that his law firm, Skadden Arps, was paid by a Ukrainian oligarch through an offshore bank account. Such details could have sunk Mr. Craig’s bid to land a high-profile government job, prosecutors alleged.
Mr. Craig was also accused of covering up his contacts with journalists, including David Sanger of The New York Times, who received an advance copy of the report before it was published.
After the trial one of the jurors, Michael Meyer, 60, said the case turned on the time period in which the Justice Department alleged Mr. Craig had lied to investigators.
Because of the statute of limitations, the jury could only find Mr. Craig guilty if he omitted facts about his involvement with the Ukrainian project after Oct. 3, 2013.
Mr. Meyer said at least some jurors believed Mr. Craig may have lied before that date but said prosecutors did not prove he lied after October 2013.
“There were a lot of people in that room who were disturbed by his behavior before Oct. 3,” Mr. Meyer continued. “Not a lot, but there were some jurors … but on the very narrow rule of Oct. 3 to Jan. 16, there was no question in the room that he hadn’t done anything during that period that warranted finding him guilty.”
Mr. Meyer told reporters he found Mr. Craig to be “very credible” on the witness stand and believed he was not part of the Ukrainian government’s media strategy to promote the report, which is what would constitute lobbying.
“He made an offer of ‘if you were to ask me for it, I would give to you,’ and so he was asked for it,” he said.