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Gregory Craig’s Trial Reaches Closing Arguments

WASHINGTON — Making their closing arguments in a closely watched trial, federal prosecutors and defense lawyers presented diametrically opposed versions of the conduct and motives of Gregory B. Craig, one of Washington’s best-known Democratic lawyers, who is accused of lying to the Justice Department about work he did to help a foreign government burnish its reputation in the United States.

Prosecutors said that Mr. Craig, a former White House counsel in the Obama administration, deceived federal officials about his work for the government of Ukraine in 2012 because he did not want to register as a foreign agent.

In answering questions from the Justice Department about whether he was required to register under the foreign lobbying law, Mr. Craig cleverly omitted some facts and blurred others “to get the result that he believes he is entitled to,” said one of the prosecutors, Jason McCullough.

But Mr. Craig’s lawyer, William Murphy, countered that the government had built a false felony case on the basis of misinterpreted documents and the testimony of proven liars. He asked the jury to acquit Mr. Craig and “prevent this prosecution from sounding a horrible false note at the end of an incredible career of honor, service and integrity.”

The case revolves around the interactions that Mr. Craig, 74, had with journalists seven years ago about a report prepared by his law firm, Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom. The Ukrainian government, then led by Viktor F. Yanukovych, had commissioned the $4.6 million-plus report in the hopes of blunting criticism that it had wrongly prosecuted and imprisoned one of Mr. Yanukovych’s political rivals.

Mr. Craig would have been required to register as a foreign agent if he and his law firm went beyond writing the report to trying to shape American public opinion about it.

Prosecutors told the jury that Mr. Craig was determined to avoid that outcome in part because registration would have revealed unsavory details about his work. They include the fact that the report was almost entirely financed by a Ukrainian oligarch who had routed the payments through an offshore bank account. Mr. Craig had falsified and backdated an invoice to Ukrainian government to help conceal those payments, the government contends.

Mr. Craig, who testified on his own behalf, is now claiming that he was guilty of no more than sloppy errors and misremembered encounters in hopes of avoiding conviction, argued Fernando Campoamor-Sanchez, another prosecutor.

“Come on, really?” he asked, in recounting Mr. Craig’s testimony about his interactions with a New York Times reporter about the report.

“He is a man of position,” Mr. Campoamor-Sanchez said. “He is very careful about what he does and how he does it.”

Mr. Murphy argued that Mr. Craig would have willingly told Justice Department officials anything they wanted to know if they had only asked him for more details. He pointed out that the prosecutors had failed to call key witnesses, including the New York Times reporter, David E. Sanger, whose article about the Skadden report is at the crux of the their case.

Mr. Murphy said that Mr. Craig was truthful to the Justice Department officials when he told them that he did not try to advance Ukraine’s media plan for the Skadden report, but strove to counteract it in his discussions with reporters. “He never thought he was a part of this media plan and, in fact, he wasn’t,” he said.

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