As a top Washington lawyer, newly named White House counsel Greg Craig has represented high-profile clients, from Bill Clinton to John Hinckley to Alexander Solzhenitsyn to Elian Gonzalez’s father.
But less well known is Craig’s work in the 1990s for at least four foreign governments or leaders facing a variety of tricky situations in Washington.
Craig represented Argentina, Bolivia, Panama and the prime minister of Haiti as a “foreign agent,” basically a lobbyist for foreign governments and businesses with issues before the federal government. But those governments, which paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to Craig’s power law firm Williams & Connolly, got more than just traditional lobbying from him.
When the U.S. government in 1990 unfroze bank accounts belonging to deposed Panamanian leader Manuel Noriega so he could pay to defend himself against drug charges, Craig went to federal court to try to seize Noriega’s cash for Panama.
Soon after Bolivia elected as its new president in 1989 a former revolutionary leftist who ran as a Social Democrat, Craig oversaw the planning of meetings between him and a cadre of influential members of Congress then, including Sens. George Mitchell (D-Maine); Bob Dole (R-Kan.); Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), a former Craig boss; Joe Biden (D-Del.), whose position as vice president-elect makes him a current Craig boss; and Reps. Porter Goss (R-Fla.) and Peter Kostmayer (D-Pa.).
And when the Argentine government wanted to lease space in Northwest Washington for a new consulate in 1990, Craig agreed to grapple with the less-than-welcoming local zoning process.
Craig also did traditional lobbying work for his roster of foreign clients.
Forms filed by Craig with the Justice Department, which administers the Foreign Agents Registration Act, show that he was involved with Williams & Connolly teams that invited lawmakers, diplomats and aides to meals at the clients’ embassies or merely called them to discuss issues such as increasing foreign aid to Panama and Bolivia, lifting sanctions on Panama, negotiating free trade pacts, “U.S. policy toward Bolivia in war against drugs” and “U.S.-Argentine trade problems, leather embargo and counterveiling (sic) duties.”
In 1993, Craig registered to represent the interim Haitian Prime Minister Robert Malval, who had been appointed by Haiti's exiled president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, before he returned to power with U.S. military backing in 1994.
Malval wrote to Craig in September. 1993:
“Dear Greg, I am writing to ask you and your law firm to represent me both personally and in my new capacity as Prime Minister of Haiti.
“I am in need of someone in Washington, D.C., who can advise me on U.S.-Haitian relations and who can also appear and speak on my behalf — and on behalf of the new government — in deliberations with officials and agencies of the United States government. I would be grateful if you would perform that service for me.
“Thank you for all the work you have done in the past to support the restoration of democracy and the rule of law in Haiti. I look forward to working with you in the future in fulfilling the dream of achieving President Aristide’s return to Haiti.”
During that same period, though, Craig was lobbying for Gregory Mevs, a Haitian businessman accused of supporting the 1991 coup that toppled Aristide, though Craig reported to the Justice Department that Mevs’ goals were “economic development in Haiti and the restoration of democracy.”
It’s unclear how Craig developed his Haitian niche. But he certainly was prepared to deal with Latin American clients — and foreign governments, generally — by his work in Kennedy’s office, where he spent four years as a senior adviser on Latin American and South African policy.
Within months f his late 1988 departure from Kennedy’s office, Craig had registered as a foreign agent. He was cited in a 1992 congressional report on former federal officials representing foreign interests before the U.S. government, which had been requested partly by three Democratic members of Congress pushing to permanently bar top executive and legislative branch officials from representing foreign interests in trade matters before the U.S. government.
Craig did not respond to requests for comment about his work as a foreign agent. But Tommy Vietor, a spokesman for President-elect Barack Obama, pointed out Craig hasn’t been registered since 1995.
“That work, which ended over 13 years ago, will not affect or compromise his ability to provide wise counsel to President-elect Obama,” Vietor said.
He also pointed out that shortly after Craig ended his foreign agent stint, he took a top job in the State Department, before President Clinton tapped him to lead his defense against impeachment proceedings.
Before getting either of those gigs, Vietor said “Mr. Craig fully disclosed the names of all the clients and governments he had represented during his career at the law firm of Williams & Connolly. At that time —over 11 years ago — his work for these foreign governments did not affect his ability to serve at the highest levels of the executive branch.”
Since leaving the Clinton administration, Craig has advised at least a couple controversial foreign clients at odds with the U.S. government, including Pedro Miguel González Pinzón, a Panamanian lawmaker wanted by the U.S. government for allegedly murdering a U.S. soldier in 1992 while Craig was representing Panama.
Craig has not registered as a foreign agent to represent Gonzalez Pinzon, nor Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada, a former Bolivian president who has lived in exile since 2003, when clashes between protesters and the Bolivian military killed an estimated 70 people and wounded hundreds more.
During the presidential campaign, Craig, then serving as a senior foreign policy adviser to Obama, drew flak for representing Sanchez de Lozada.
Craig told ABC News he had recused himself “from advising Sen. Obama about anything and everything related to the Sanchez de Lozada case” and he said that, generally, he would not advise Obama "about any matter that involves a client that I have represented in the past."
The Obama transition team did not answer when Politico asked whether Craig’s blanket recusal would apply to the governments he represented as a foreign agent once he joins the administration, which could be very difficult, given the broad scope of the White House counsel’s job.
Craig’s foreign agent work, though, doesn’t run afoul of the strict ethics guidelines Obama laid out during the campaign, when he decreed that lobbyists can work in his administration — just not in areas related to their lobbying within two years of that lobbying.