Greg Craig, former White House counsel for former President Barack Obama, pleaded not guilty in federal court on Friday to charges of making false and misleading statements to federal prosecutors related to his work on behalf of Russian-backed former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.
A status hearing for his case has been set for April 15 before U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson in the District of Columbia.
Craig, in an indictment a day earlier, was accused of making false and misleading statements to investigators including those on Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team. Craig is the first prominent Democrat to be indicted in a case that stemmed from Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling and potential collusion with members of the Trump campaign during the 2016 election.
Mueller referred the Craig case to prosecutors in New York last year, after uncovering alleged misconduct while investigating former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort’s unregistered lobbying work on behalf of Ukraine.
Craig was indicted by a grand jury in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia for allegedly falsifying and concealing “material facts” and making false statements to both Mueller and investigators in the Justice Department’s National Security Division’s Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) Unit.
The FARA Unit is responsible for enforcing foreign lobbying laws that require the disclosure of certain overseas activity, including public relations work for foreign entities. At issue were Craig’s 2012 lobbying and media contacts on behalf of Yanukovych, while Craig was a partner at the law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom.
Specifically, Craig and the law firm were commissioned by Yanukovych and Ukraine's government to write a report to assess whether the government's prosecution of dissident Yulia Tymoshenko -- a criminal case that was criticized widely as an abuse of power -- was a "fair trial."
In a videotaped statement uploaded to YouTube on Thursday, Craig asserted that the report was "independent," and denied helping Ukraine spin the information it contained. He also strongly denied the charges against him, saying he was "always honest" about his activities.
Craig, speaking directly to the camera, also slammed the prosecution as "unprecedented and unjustified."
It was not clear why Mueller -- who prosecuted other Trump officials, including Manafort, Michael Flynn, and George Papadopoulos for making false statements -- did not handle the Craig case himself, and opted instead to farm it out to prosecutors in New York.
Alex van der Zwaan, another former Skadden lawyer, pleaded guilty last year to lying to investigators about the report.
Craig faces up to 10 years in prison in all -- up to five years and a possible $250,000 fine for allegedly willfully falsifying and concealing material facts from the FARA Unit and another five years and $10,000 fine for making false and misleading statements to the FARA Unit.
Craig's attorneys on Wednesday night told The Associated Press in a statement that the "government's stubborn insistence on prosecuting Mr. Craig is a misguided abuse of prosecutorial discretion."
On Thursday, the attorneys, William Taylor and William Murphy, told reporters: "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. That is what this trial will be all about."
Fox News' Jake Gibson, Mike Emanuel and The Associated Press contributed to this report.