WASHINGTON — Lawyers for Gregory B. Craig, a White House counsel in the Obama administration, expect him to be indicted in the coming days on charges related to his work for the Russia-aligned government of Ukraine.
The case against Mr. Craig, 74, stemmed from an investigation initiated by the office of the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III.
An Ivy League-educated lawyer who held prominent positions in the Clinton and Obama administrations, Mr. Craig would become the first person who made his name in Democratic Party politics to be charged in a case linked to the special counsel’s investigation.
Mr. Craig would also become the first person to be charged in a case connected to the special counsel after Mr. Mueller finished his investigation into the 2016 presidential election. In a summary of the inquiry, Attorney General William P. Barr said that the special counsel’s team had concluded that there was no evidence that President Trump or his aides “conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”
The case against Mr. Craig is related to the Foreign Agents Registration Act, or FARA, which the Justice Department is prioritizing in part because of scrutiny related to Mr. Mueller’s investigation.
The law requires Americans to disclose detailed information about lobbying and public relations work for foreign governments and politicians, and it has been the basis for charges brought against several people investigated by the special counsel.
Mr. Craig’s lawyers do not necessarily expect him to be charged with violating the act.
Rather, they expect him to be charged with making false statements to the Justice Department officials examining whether he was required to register under the law for work he did in 2012, while he was a partner at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom.
The work, on behalf of the government of Viktor F. Yanukovych, then the president of Ukraine, was linked to Paul Manafort, who at the time was a political consultant earning tens of millions of dollars for his representation of Mr. Yanukovych.
Mr. Manafort, who went on to become Mr. Trump’s campaign chairman in 2016, was sentenced last month to seven and a half years in prison on charges brought by Mr. Mueller’s team related to obstruction of justice and violations of FARA, as well as banking and tax laws stemming from his work in Ukraine.
Mr. Manafort arranged for Skadden Arps to be paid more than $5.2 million in 2012 and 2013, primarily from a Ukrainian oligarch, to assist the Ukrainian Justice Ministry. Specifically, Mr. Craig and his team produced a report that Mr. Manafort intended to use to quell Western criticism of the prosecution and jailing by Mr. Yanukovych’s government of one of his rivals, the former prime minister Yulia V. Tymoshenko, and to train Ukrainian prosecutors handling matters related to the case.
After the report was released, and Mr. Craig was quoted discussing it in an article in The New York Times, the Justice Department unit that oversees FARA reached out to Skadden Arps to ask why the firm and its lawyers had not registered as foreign agents for the Ukrainian government.
The department initially concluded in 2013 that Skadden Arps was obligated to register. But it reversed itself the next year after Mr. Craig made the case that the law did not apply to his work on behalf of Ukraine.
After the initial determination, Mr. Craig told the Justice Department that he and Skadden Arps did not proactively reach out to news outlets to disseminate and promote the report. Rather, he claimed he distributed the report only “in response to requests from the media,” according to a letter he sent to the department at the time.
Prosecutors cast doubt on Mr. Craig’s claim in a settlement reached in January between the Justice Department and Skadden Arps. Under that settlement, the firm avoided prosecution in the matter in exchange for an agreement to pay $4.6 million, to retroactively register its Ukraine work under FARA, to beef up its compliance processes and to cooperate with government investigations of the work on behalf of Ukraine.
But the settlement did not exonerate Mr. Craig, and in fact it signaled that he was in prosecutors’ cross hairs. It quoted emails showing Mr. Craig reached out to a journalist to offer to provide the report and discuss it.
Neither Mr. Craig nor the journalist are identified by name in the settlement. The journalist, David E. Sanger of The New York Times, is an author of the article in which Mr. Craig is quoted.
Mr. Craig’s lawyers have argued that he was not required to register his work under FARA because he was not doing public relations for the Ukrainian government.
In a statement on Wednesday, they said he “repeatedly refused requests that he participate in Ukraine’s media and lobbying campaign to promote the Tymoshenko Report.”
Rather, they say he spoke to The Times to correct the Ukrainian Justice Ministry’s claims that the report cleared Mr. Yanukovych of accusations that he directed the prosecution of Ms. Tymoshenko for political purposes.
The report “was critical of the Tymoshenko trial and caused unhappiness in the Ministry of Justice,” the lawyers said in their statement.
Mr. Craig’s lawyers asserted that the case against their client was flimsy, pointing out that Mr. Mueller’s team referred it to federal prosecutors in Manhattan last year for potential prosecution related to FARA, but that they did not bring charges. Instead, the case was moved in January to Washington.
It is being handled by the United States attorney’s office in Washington, and the Justice Department’s National Security Division, which enforces FARA.
Mr. Craig’s lawyers said in the statement, “We expect an indictment by the D.C. U.S. attorney’s office at the request of the National Security Division.” But they added, “Mr. Craig is not guilty of any charge and the government’s stubborn insistence on prosecuting Mr. Craig is a misguided abuse of prosecutorial discretion.”
Mr. Craig left Skadden Arps last year as scrutiny of his work with Mr. Manafort escalated and after a former associate of the firm pleaded guilty to lying to investigators about his work on the effort.