DOJ settlement requires high-profile law firm to repay the $4.6 million it earned working for Ukrain

Settlement released by DOJ

By ERICA ORDEN, CNN
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(CNN) - One of the country's highest-profile law firms agreed to turn over $4.6 million it earned for 2012 work for Ukraine in connection with former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and retroactively register as a foreign agent, according to a settlement released Thursday by the Department of Justice.

The settlement with the firm -- Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP -- is an extraordinary setback for one of the largest and most storied firms in the American legal industry. It also appeared to leave one of its former partners, Greg Craig, who previously worked as President Barack Obama's White House counsel, exposed to potential criminal charges for what the document describes as his repeated "false and misleading" statements to Justice Department officials.

CNN has previously reported that Craig's work for the firm is the subject of a criminal investigation in the Manhattan US Attorney's Office, which has been weighing charges against him. The Craig case, along with two related cases, were referred to New York federal prosecutors by special counsel Robert Mueller, CNN has reported.

"We have learned much from this incident and are taking steps to prevent anything similar from happening again," the firm said in a statement on Thursday.

An attorney for Craig declined to comment on Thursday.

Craig isn't cited by name in the settlement, but the 38-page document makes repeated references to "Partner-1," who is described as having exited the firm in April 2018 after leading led the firm's effort to write a report for Ukraine on the trial of Yulia Tymoshenko, the former prime minister of Ukraine -- a description that matches Craig.

Ukraine hired Skadden with the assistance of Manafort, who for a decade had been performing work for the Party of Regions, a pro-Russia political party in Ukraine. Manafort and his business partner, Rick Gates, have both admitted to failing to register as foreign agents for their work for Ukraine.

The settlement describes a thorough and persistent effort by Craig to both disseminate the report to at least one member of the media -- a step that would have required the firm to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, which requires that an entity representing a foreign political party or government file public reports detailing the relationship -- and to subsequently mask his involvement in media outreach when Justice Department officials inquired with the firm about its FARA compliance.

Craig's false statements were made both in written materials and in a meeting he had with DOJ officials from the department's FARA unit in 2013.

It also details his efforts to withhold the fact that the firm was being paid for its work on the report and other matters by a third-party Ukranian businessman who funneled more than $4 million for fees and expenses to the firm through an offshore shell account, Black Sea View Limited. The agreement doesn't name the businessman.

As part of the settlement, Skadden is required to "undertake continuing cooperation" with Justice Department inquiries related to its work for Ukraine, an obligation that includes "sworn testimony before federal grand juries or federal trials, as well as interviews with domestic law enforcement and regulatory authorities."

The settlement by Skadden, which was made with the Justice Department's national security division, isn't the first time the firm has been ensnared by the cases against Manafort and Gates.

Last year, another former Skadden employee who worked on the report, Alex van der Zwaan, pleaded guilty to lying to the special counsel's office, admitting that he misled investigators about his discussions related to Skadden's work in preparing the report.

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