Greg Craig's rise and fall: From John Hinckley's lawyer to Obama White House counsel – to indicted power player

Former Obama White House counsel Greg Craig's indictment this week represented a stunning fall for the high-powered Washington lawyer — who aside from his work in the Obama administration represented everyone from Bill Clinton to Ronald Reagan's would-be assassin John Hinckley, Jr.

Now, he's on the other side of the attorney-client coin, defending himself against an indictment alleging he made false statements and concealed information in a federal foreign lobbying investigation spun off from Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Russia probe. Craig, the first prominent Democrat to be named in the probe, is accused of concealing material facts from the Justice Department about work he performed for the Ukrainian government.

"I did not participate in a scheme to mislead the government or conceal material facts," Craig, 74, said this week, denying the charges as his lawyers called the case "a misguided abuse of prosecutorial discretion."


In private practice, Craig's list of clients included former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards and James Cartwright, the former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who was charged in a leak investigation.

Craig also made headlines in 2008 as one of Obama's biggest backers. The endorsement came as a surprise to then-Democratic presidential primary candidate Hillary Clinton and her husband, both of whom knew Craig while attending Yale Law School in the early 1970s. The attorney was also tapped as special counsel to then-President Clinton during his 1998 impeachment proceedings, convincing the Senate during a trial that Clinton's offenses weren't cause to unseat him.

“To Greg. We struck the right pose—and you struck the right chords! Thanks -- Bill Clinton, 2/99," the former president wrote on a photo of the pair — along with the rest of the legal team — that he gifted to Craig after his acquittal, according to The New Yorker.

In November 2008, Obama announced Craig would be his White House counsel, a move that drew scrutiny given other elements of the lawyer's history.

In the early 1980s, Craig sparked outrage for helping win then-25-year-old Hinckley, who shot former President Reagan and three others outside of a Washington, D.C., hotel, a not guilty verdict for reason of insanity, landing him in a psychiatric facility instead of a maximum-security prison. In 2016, the notorious gunman was released from the hospital to live with his elderly mother in Virginia, telling mental health professionals he's "happy as a clam" with his new life.


John Hinckley Jr. arrives at U.S. District Court in Washington in this file photo.

John Hinckley Jr. arrives at U.S. District Court in Washington in this file photo. (AP)

Craig also became a pariah in the Cuban-American community in 2000 after helping Cuban Juan Miguel Gonzáles gain custody of his 6-year-old son Elián after his mother and others drowned in a boat trying to reach Florida. Elián had been living in the Little Havana neighborhood in Miami with his uncle at the time, but the court forced the boy to leave his extended family and return to Cuba after Craig's victory.

Despite his controversial background, Obama defended his decision and touted Craig's various roles in the federal government including serving as Sen. Edward Kennedy's senior adviser on defense, foreign policy and national security issues and as senior adviser to Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. Before the election, Craig volunteered to portray the late Sen. John McCain in mock debates with Obama — a role he was easily able to emulate, as his father William was a Republican who lost Vermont's gubernatorial race in 1976.

But his time in the Obama administration was short-lived. He resigned after one year on the job following criticism over his handling of Obama's plan to close Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.


Craig's work drew the Justice Department's attention in 2012, when Craig and his law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP were hired by the Ukrainian government 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 patron of disgraced former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort who's slated to spend a total of 81 months in prison.

In 2013, the DOJ told Craig and his firm in a letter that he was required to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) while representing Yanukovych — but the lawyer allegedly refused.

In its settlement earlier this year, Skadden acknowledged it should have registered under FARA and also confirmed it received a $4.6 million payment for the report instead of the $12,000 the Ukrainian government previously claimed.

The Thursday indictment says Craig did not want to register under FARA because doing so could keep him or others at his law firm from getting government positions and because the filing would require him to disclose the millions paid from a "private, wealthy Ukrainian." To help hide the private funding, Craig is accused of backdating and falsifying invoices at Manafort's request to make it appear the Ukrainian government was the sole funder of the report.

Craig is being charged with two counts of making false and misleading statements to investigators — including Mueller's team, which uncovered his purported wrongdoings while investigating Manafort as part of the Russia probe — in connection with his work on behalf of Yanukovych.

"This indictment accuses Mr. Craig of misleading the FARA Unit of the Department of Justice in order to avoid registration. It is itself unfair and misleading. It ignores uncontroverted evidence to the contrary. Mr. Craig had no interest in misleading the FARA Unit because he had not done anything that required his registration," Craig's attorneys, William Taylor and William Murphy, said in response.

Fox News' Gregg Re and The Associated Press contributed to this report.