Greg Craig, the former Obama White House counsel, may regret he ever wound up working with former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, but Craig’s ongoing criminal trial is opening a new and often entertaining window into infighting and skullduggery on the team Manafort assembled to advise Ukraine’s government.
A British public relations adviser Manafort hired to aid in the roll-out of the Ukraine-focused report Craig prepared in 2012, Jonathan Hawker, testified in federal court in Washington on Tuesday that Hawker and a colleague came to so detest Manafort’s right-hand man, Rick Gates, that they came up with an insulting moniker for him: “(P)Rick.”
“That was what we called him,” Hawker said. “I’m afraid it was a routine name for the man.”
Hawker explained that the firm he was working for at the time, FTI Consulting, struggled for months to get a contract and to get payment for the public relations advice the firm was providing to Ukraine’s government, headed at the time by President Viktor Yanukovych.
The P.R. consultant said Gates repeatedly promised that money was being wired to FTI, but the payments did not arrive.
“We felt that trying to get the money delivered by Mr. Gates that he had promised was a bit like trying to grab eels with your hands: You feel you’ve got it, you look down, and there’s nothing there,” Hawker said.
FTI was ultimately paid its fees for work publicizing Craig’s report on the trial of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko. However, about $300,000 in expenses the firm racked up were never reimbursed. Hawker said ill will at FTI over that shortfall led him to resign.
While the Ukraine project appears to have cost Hawker his job, it could cost Craig his freedom. The veteran Washington lawyer and longtime human rights advocate is on trial on a felony charge of implementing a scheme to conceal information from Justice Department officials who inquired about Craig’s work on the report, prepared by a team from the law firm Skadden Arps.
While Craig’s defense team is trying to undermine the credibility of prosecution witnesses, it also seems intent on painting their highly respected client as having inadvertently and unexpectedly found himself thrust into a world of liars and scoundrels.
Of course, Craig voluntarily assumed the project, knowing it was commissioned at least in part as a public relations exercise by Yanukovuych, who had a checkered reputation in the West. Craig also knew from the outset that the bulk of the fees Skadden would earn for the work — ultimately, $4.6 million — would not be paid by the government but secretly covered by a Ukrainian oligarch, Viktor Pinchuk.
However, Craig’s attorneys drew out a story for jurors on Tuesday that showed his trust was betrayed even by a member of his own Skadden team, Alex van der Zwaan.
Hawker said he was under extreme pressure in the summer of 2012 to prepare detailed P.R. plans for the report but faced a major problem: He had never seen it.
“I tried to get a copy of the report from Mr. Craig and he said it wasn’t ready,” Hawker said. “I kind of needed the draft to make a start. I reported back to Mr. Gates that I couldn’t get it.”
A short time later, Hawker was summoned to van der Zwaan’s room at a hotel in Kiev, Ukraine’s capital. There, the young Skadden lawyer made a furtive proposal.
“He said to me, ‘There’s a copy of the report on my desk. I’m going to go out now for a period of time, half-hour. Do what you like and I’ll see you later.’ I took that as he wants me to read the report,” Hawker said. Van der Zwaan then left Hawker alone with the report while he made notes on it, Hawker said.
Asked by Judge Amy Berman Jackson whether he knew if Craig authorized van der Zwaan to share the report, Hawker said he was almost certain Craig did not.
“I thought it extremely unlikely that Mr. van der Zwaan would have authority from Greg, who just earlier told me I couldn’t have the report,” Hawker said.
Van der Zwaan came under scrutiny in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation as Mueller’s team looked into Manafort, Gates and potential Russian connections to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. Early last year, van der Zwaan pleaded guilty — before Jackson — to making false statements to investigators in the course of the Mueller probe.
Jackson sentenced the Belgian-born Dutch attorney to 30 days in a U.S. prison, which he served before being deported.
Hawker, who lives near London, testified as a prosecution witness. Prosecutors sought to establish through him that Gates was involved in public relations efforts for the Skadden report, including a plan to share an advance copy of the document with a New York Times reporter, David Sanger.
Hawker said that Craig went back and forth on whether he would be involved in efforts to publicize the report, but the prominent attorney was fully on board with the plan to give Sanger an exclusive.
“Did he express any hesitation about talking to Mr. Sanger?” prosecutor Fernando Campoamor-Sanchez asked.
“No,” Hawker said.
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