A Dutch lawyer who lied about his contacts with a top Trump campaign official and a reputed Russian spy was ordered April 3 to serve 30 days in prison, becoming the first person sentenced in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s sprawling investigation.
Alex van der Zwaan, 33, a former associate at U.S.-based Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom and the son-in-law of Russian oligarch German Khan, was also ordered to pay a $20,000 fine.
Van der Zwaan faced up to six months in prison after pleading guilty on Feb. 20 to lying in an interview with prosecutors and FBI agents. He admitted to misleading them about his discussions with Rick Gates, Trump’s former deputy campaign chairman, and about his work with a man who prosecutors say was a Russian military intelligence officer.
“He was essentially caught red-handed,” Judge Amy Berman Jackson, of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, said during the sentencing hearing. She said that van der Zwaan’s lies were especially troubling because Mueller’s investigation involves questions of national security and “potential foreign interference in the democratic process that is fundamental to our freedoms.”
The judge said she would recommend to U.S. authorities that van der Zwaan be confined at the federal prison in Allenwood, Pa., followed by two months of supervised release.
Van der Zwaan, who asked Jackson to spare him time behind bars, was the fifth person to plead guilty in Mueller’s investigation of whether Russia colluded with anyone in the successful campaign of President Donald Trump. Van der Zwaan, who is not cooperating, claims he lied to protect his job and not anyone else.
“What I did was wrong,” van der Zwaan said. “I apologize to the court for my conduct. I apologize to my wife and family.”
Although Mueller’s office didn’t recommend a particular sentence, prosecutor Andrew Weissmann urged the judge to send a message to “reflect the gravity of the offense.” Van der Zwaan, he said, had a “history of conduct that’s either criminal or shows a real lack of morality.”
“We count on people to tell us the truth,” Weissmann said. “People need to know that there are consequences to withholding documents and consequences to lying to the government.”
Lawyers for van der Zwaan, who lives in London, suggested he’d been punished enough by having to live in limbo in the U.S. in recent months. “He’s going to go home without a profession or a career,” said defense attorney William Schwartz. But the judge rejected Schwartz’s request that he only pay a fine and return to his pregnant wife in London.
“We’re not talking about a traffic ticket,” Jackson said. “This was lying in the course of a federal criminal investigation.”
Prosecutors said the lies van der Zwaan told involved his work with Gates and a reputed Russian spy referred to as Person A in court filings. The description of Person A matches Konstantin Kilimnik, who has denied spying but declined to comment further.
Kilimnik worked for Gates and his longtime business partner, former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, when they served as political consultants in Ukraine. Prosecutors said Manafort and Gates secretly coordinated an extensive lobbying campaign in the U.S. to benefit former President Viktor Yanukovych of Ukraine before he fled to Moscow.
Manafort and Gates were indicted on Oct. 27, accused of hiding their lobbying work and laundering millions of dollars. Gates has pleaded guilty and is helping Mueller, while Manafort faces additional charges of bank and tax fraud.
As part of the lobbying effort, Skadden was hired in 2012 to produce a report on the prosecution and trial of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, a Yanukovych rival. Van der Zwaan helped produce the report, which largely defended the prosecution. Western leaders said the case against Tymoshenko was politically motivated.
In pleading guilty, van der Zwaan admitted he talked several times to Gates and Person A in September and October 2016, when they feared that Ukraine might bring criminal charges over the report and how the firm was paid. Van der Zwaan said he secretly recorded some calls with Gates, Person A and a senior Skadden partner, former White House counsel Greg Craig.
But when van der Zwaan flew from London to Washington for an interview with investigators on Nov. 3, 2017, he lied about those 2016 contacts. He was represented by Skadden lawyers and feared he could be fired for taping his boss, his lawyer said.
Within two weeks, during a second interview with investigators, van der Zwaan admitted his lies. He produced the tape recordings as well as some emails he had concealed. Those emails included language about him exploring “opportunities to leave Skadden to work directly for Gates and Manafort,” according to a defense filing.
Weissmann said van der Zwaan leaked a copy of the Tymoshenko report to Gates, allowing him to spin the conclusions, despite Skadden saying the process was independent.
The two sides in the van der Zwaan case have clashed over what drove him to lie. Jackson said she didn’t know what van der Zwaan’s motive may have been, but she speculated that he’d become fascinated with the work that Gates and Manafort were doing and sought to ingratiate himself with them.
The case is United States v. Van der Zwaan, D.D.C., No. 18-cr-00031, sentencing 4/3/18.
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