In addition, these sources said, prosecutors in the US prosecutor for the southern district of New York are considering taking action against the law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP, where Craig was a partner during the investigated activity. Prosecutors are considering a civil arrangement with the company or a deferred prosecution agreement with Skadden, according to these sources.
A Craig lawyer, who left Skadden in April and was a White House adviser to President Barack Obama in the first year of that administration, said his client "did not need to register under the Foreign Agent Registration Act." A Skadden spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.
A deferred prosecution agreement is an agreement not to prosecute an entity as long as the defendant complies with the terms of the agreement and in many cases dictates that the defendant should not commit any new crimes for the duration of the agreement. The costs in the agreement are then left out at the end of the period.
The investigation with Craig and Skadden was referred by federal prosecutors in New York earlier this year by the office of the special counselor Robert Mueller, CNN reported in August.
Prosecutors of the American lawyer's office informed the Ministry of Justice of the options being considered, according to the sources familiar with the matter. However, prosecutors have not concluded that they have sufficient evidence to file the possible charges, according to these sources, and have therefore not made a decision about whether or not to proceed.
Any action against Craig or Skadden would be an extraordinary step, given the reputation of Craig and the position of Skadden as one of the largest and most prestigious law firms in the country.
The investigation concerns the question whether Craig wrongly carried out lobbying on behalf of a group associated with Ukraine without registering with the Ministry of Justice as a foreign agent. Federal law requires that an entity representing a foreign political party or government submits public reports describing the relationship under the Foreign Agents Registration Act or FARA.
The investigation into Craig and Skadden is closely linked to a case against Manafort and details of Skadden's work on this matter have been published in the substitute criminal charges filed Friday by Mueller's office against Manafort. Manafort pleaded Friday a count of conspiracy against the US and a count of conspiracy to prevent justice as a result of attempts to tamper with witnesses, and he agreed to cooperate with the federal government.
According to the submission, which Manafort only accused, Manafort "asked" a law firm in 2012 on behalf of the then President of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovich, and the Ministry of Justice of the Ukrainian government. The company, according to the people familiar with Skadden, was hired to write a report on the trial against Yulia Tymoshenko, the former Prime Minister of Ukraine and the political rival of Yanukovych.
Prior to the official release of the report, "Manafort arranged for the law firm to distribute paper copies of the report among a large number of government officials, including senior executive and legislative officials of the United States," the submission said. The partner who worked on the report – according to legal proceedings in another related case, that of former Skadden lawyer Alex van der Zwaan – was Craig, CNN reports. Van der Zwaan, in February, pleaded guilty to lying to the office of the special counselor, admitting that he had misled researchers about his discussions regarding Skadden's work for Yanukovych when drafting the report.
According to the New York Times, Craig himself was also involved in promoting the report for members of Congress and the media, a step that may have led to FARA requirements.
Although FARA has an exception for lawyers who legally perform legal work on behalf of a foreign client, lawyers are needed to try to influence US government policy issues to register. "Attorneys involved in the legal representation of foreign principals in court or similar types of proceedings, as long as the lawyer does not try to influence the policy at the insistence of his client, are exempt," according to the guidelines of the Ministry of Justice.
The Manafort allegations filed on Friday claim that "Manafort knew that the report also did not reveal that the law firm, in addition to being held to write the report, was retained to represent Ukraine itself, also in connection with the Tymoshenko case. and to provide training for the trial personnel that Tymoshenko continues. & # 39;
More than $ 4.6 million was paid to Skadden for his work, the charges say, and Manafort took steps to mask the sum of the fees because "Manafort and others knew that the actual cost of the report and the size of the work of the law firm undermining the report is seen as an independent assessment and thus an effective lobbying tool for Manafort to use to support the detention of the political opponent of President Yanukovich. "
In addition to the reference to Craig, the prosecutor's office of Mueller referred earlier this year to prosecutors in New York about possible FARA violations by long-term Democratic lobbyist Tony Podesta, formerly of the Podesta Group, and former Republican Rep. Vin Weber from Minnesota, a partner at Mercury Public Affairs, reported CNN, referring to people who were familiar with the case.
"We have been working with the (special adviser) for more than a year, for example we have waived the privilege of attorney-client, so that the government could see the full exchange we had with our expert FARA lawyers during the two years. of this project to provide full transparency in the decision-making process, "a Mercury spokesman said in a statement.
"In April 2012, when the project we were in the process of getting started with, we started a FARA registration and wrote the check for the registration fee, but we were advised by our FARA lawyers to file (a publication in the lobby) Instead we have submitted nine times (lobbying disclosures) and we will continue to cooperate with the government on request. "
It is unclear whether the federal prosecutors in New York are making progress with the documents of the case in which these two men and their companies are involved. In the Manafort charges filed on Friday, prosecutors claim that employees of the two companies knew they were working for Ukrainian politicians and not an independent non-profit group. The company Podesta had previously said that it would not go under FARA because the certificate from the non-profit organization had received that it was not an arm of a foreign government or a foreign political party.
Weber did not respond to a request for comment. A spokesperson from Podesta declined to comment.
CNN & # 39; s Kara Scannell contributed to this story.