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Lawyer connected to Russia election interference investigation receives 30-day sentence

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The first person to be sentenced in Robert Mueller’s investigation appeared before a federal judge on Tuesday. Alex van der Zwaan, pleaded guilty in February to lying to the FBI about his interactions with former Trump campaign aide Rick Gates. (April 3)
AP

WASHINGTON — A Dutch attorney who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Trump campaign deputy Rick Gates and a former Russian intelligence agent was sentenced to 30 days in prison and a $20,000 fine Tuesday.

Alex Van Der Zwaan acknowledged making false statements about communications with Gates and the unidentified agent who prosecutors referred to as “Person A” as part of the ongoing investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.

Van Der Zwaan is the first person to be sentenced in the wide-ranging inquiry managed by Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller.

U.S. District Judge Amy Jackson rejected the defense request that he be permitted to pay a fine and return home to London. He faced a maximum punishment of six months in prison.

“We’re not talking about a traffic ticket,” Jackson told Van Der Zwaan, adding that his conduct had taken on greater significance because of gravity of the investigation that he had been swept into.

“This was not a momentary lapse,” Jackson said. “He was essentially caught red-handed. This was not something that happened to him; this is something he did.

“He put his personal interest ahead of the interests of justice,” the judge said.

 Before sentencing, the contrite defendant, dressed in a dark suit, offered a brief apology.

“What I did was wrong,” Van Der Zwaan told Jackson. “I apologize to the court; I apologize to my wife and family.”

As Van Der Zwaan spoke, his father and other members of his family listened from their seats only several feet away. 

The case involving Van Der Zwaan centered on the attorney’s work in 2012 on a report supporting the prosecution of a chief political rival to the then-president of Ukraine whose government was aligned with the Kremlin.

Van Der Zwaan and his law U.S.-based firm, Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, were doing the work with Gates and Manafort. 

Last month, Mueller’s team disclosed in a sentencing memorandum related to the case that Gates was in contact with the person who the FBI believed had ties to Russian intelligence during the run-up to the 2016 election in the U.S.

Gates and the former intelligence agent were “directly communicating” in September and October prior to the election, prosecutors asserted in court documents.

Gates has since pleaded guilty to conspiracy and lying to the FBI and has promised to assist Mueller’s continuing probe into Russia’s interference in the election. Manafort, who was indicted along with Gates in October on money laundering and conspiracy charges related to their Ukraine work, also faces related bank fraud charges in a Alexandria, Va., federal court. He has pleaded not guilty in both cases.

Prosecutors claim that the attorney, Alex Van Der Zwaan, knew about Person A’s ties to Russian intelligence.

“Gates told him ‘Person A’ was a former Russian intelligence officer with the GRU (the intelligence arm of the Russian military),” the court documents state.

In addition to lying about his communications, Van Der Zwaan also was accused of destroying emails related to those communications, which he was required to provide Mueller’s investigators during his initial interview in November.

Prosecutor Andrew Weissmann told Jackson Tuesday that Van Der Zwaan was “explicitly warned about the consequences of lying,” yet did so any way.

Referring to Van Der Zwaan’s position as an experienced attorney who was represented by four lawyers during the interview, Weissmann said Van Der Zwaan’s conduct “demonstrated a moral compass that was off kilter.”

Defense attorney William Schwartz argued that his client should be credited for returning to the United States two weeks after the initial interview in an attempt to “correct the record” in a second meeting with Mueller’s team.

“He realized that he had made a terrible mistake and had broken the law,” Schwartz said.

Weissmann, however, said Van Der Zwaan was required to return from his London home because he was served with a subpoena to appear before a federal grand jury following the November interview.

“People should know that there are consequences for withholding documents and there are consequences for withholding the truth,”Weissmann told Jackson.

Schwartz said his client’s quick return to London was necessary because his wife was suffering through a difficult pregnancy and that his mother needed his support there.

But Jackson, while acknowledging his family predicament, characterized their plights as “collateral damage” inflicted by Van Der Zwaan.

  

 

 

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