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Lobbyists See The Indictment Of Powerful Lawyer Gregory Craig As A Warning


In Washington, lobbyists are reading this week's indictment of a powerful lawyer named Gregory Craig as a warning. Craig did some work for lobbyist Paul Manafort, President Trump's onetime campaign chairman who now faces a long prison sentence. NPR's Peter Overby reports.

PETER OVERBY, BYLINE: Gregory Craig was the top lawyer in President Barack Obama's White House. Before that, he was on the defense team for President Bill Clinton's impeachment. Right now Craig is an object lesson for lobbyists who deal with or should deal with the Foreign Agents Registration Act. It's commonly called FARA.

KATE BELINSKI: There really has been a sea change in how people are approaching FARA registration and really thinking and taking seriously whether they do need to register.

OVERBY: Kate Belinski is a lawyer who helps lobbyists navigate FARA's requirements. She said that since Craig's case became public a few weeks ago, she's been getting a lot of calls about whether and how to register.

BELINSKI: I wasn't getting those calls on a regular basis before.

OVERBY: FARA enforcement is up to the Justice Department. Before 2017, enforcement was extremely light. Then special counsel Robert Mueller's task force arrested Manafort, and Belinski said Congress now pays much closer attention.

BELINSKI: DOJ is at a point right now where they can't be in a position where they're not enforcing.

OVERBY: Toby Moffett, a longtime FARA registrant and former congressman, said that since Manafort's arrest...

TOBY MOFFETT: You hear a lot more people talk about it and speak with some fear about violating the statute possibly.

OVERBY: Moffett noted the fine already paid by Craig's former law firm, Skadden, Arps - $4.6 million.

MOFFETT: The Skadden experience has probably, to put it mildly, gotten the attention of other firms, especially law firms which are very reputation-conscious.

OVERBY: Senate Judiciary Chair Charles Grassley wants to change the lobbying laws. He would make lobbyists register under FARA if their clients are the U.S. subsidiaries of foreign-owned companies. Those subsidiaries currently come under the law for domestic lobbying, where disclosure is far less strict. Paul Miller is president of the Institute for Lobbying and Ethics, a lobbyist organization. He said FARA's stronger disclosure is good. But FARA has filing fees.

PAUL MILLER: But for small firms who do it, you know, it's just over $600 a year for the filing. And then the paperwork is a headache.

OVERBY: That would still leave open some big loopholes. People avoid both lobbying laws by calling themselves strategic advisers.

MILLER: It's not new. I mean, these things seem to be happening, and that's why we keep talking about, you know, the shadow lobbying.

OVERBY: There's also the risk of bad publicity. Tom Susman is a former lobbyist now with the American Bar Association.

TOM SUSMAN: Nobody wants to be part of the NPR story about having violated one of the federal laws when your job depends on your reputation and your credibility.

OVERBY: But those laws have proved tough to change. Peter Overby, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Peter Overby has covered Washington power, money, and influence since a foresighted NPR editor created the beat in 1994.