Dutch attorney Alexander Van der Zwaan was ordered Tuesday to serve 30 days in jail and pay a $20,000 fine in the first sentencing flowing from special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.
Van der Zwaan, 33, pleaded guilty in February to lying to federal investigators about his contacts with Trump campaign official Rick Gates and that he knew Gates had spoken with another, unidentified individual. In court papers filed last week, it was disclosed that Gates was talking with a former Russian intelligence officer just before the 2016 election.
Prosecutors had asked Judge Amy Berman Jackson to give Van der Zwaan a prison sentence, but did not specify the length.
Defense attorneys sought leniency because they say Van der Zwaan’s wife is six months pregnant with their first child and that he suffered from boredom and anxiety during his four-month confinement in a Washington, D.C., hotel while he awaited his trail and sentencing.
Judge Jackson told Van der Zwaan that he should have known better as he stood before her in a Washington, D.C., courtroom.
“He lied,” she said. “They are not mistakes. They are lies.”
The judge said the sentence, which also included two months of supervised release, reflects the “seriousness of the offense.”
“This is not something that happened to him,” she said. “This is something he did. He put his personal interests ahead of the interests of justice.”
Van der Zwaan addressed the judge, delivering a brief apology to his wife and his family for his conduct.
“What I did was wrong,” he said.
But that wasn’t enough for Judge Jackson, who blasted Van der Zwaan for what she characterized as a lack of regret. She said that she received letters seeking mercy for Van der Zwaan from his family and co-workers, but he did not send a similar letter to the judge. Van der Zwaan also did not do any community service during the four-month hotel stay, Judge Jackson said.
“Expressions of remorse from the lawyer and those on his behalf have been muted to say the least,” she said.
The son-in-law of Russian oligarch German Kahn, Van der Zwaan faced up to five years in federal prison.
A London-based attorney at the firm Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom, Van der Zwaan met Gates and former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort in 2012. Skadden Arps had been tapped to produce a report on behalf of the Ukrainain government defending the imprisonment of a former prime minister. Gates and Mr. Manafort did lobbying work on behalf of the Ukrainain government
Both Mr. Manafort and Gates have been indicted in Mr. Mueller’s probe. Gates has pleaded guilty and is said to be working with government. Mr. Manafort, however, has maintained his innocence and will fight the charges against him in Washington and Virginia.
Court papers allege that Gates and Mr. Manafort, both of whom face fraud and money laundering charges, secretly funneled cash from their foreign lobbying work to offshore bank accounts in a complicated scheme to avoid paying U.S. taxes.
Prosecutor Andrew Weissmann portrayed Van der Zwaan as an opportunist angling for a job with Mr. Manafort and Gates. He said that Van der Zwaan would do anything to curry favor with the pair, including lying to federal investigators and withholding or destroying emails.
“This is not an isolated incident,” Mr. Weissmann said. “There is a history of conduct that is either criminal or shows a real lack of morality.”
Mr. Weissmann said Van der Zwaan also schemed behind the scenes to ensure the report would be favorable to the Ukrainian interests represented by Mr. Manafort and Gates.
Those actions included giving the report and talking points on how to spin it to Gates ahead of its release. Mr. Weissmann said Van der Zwaan’s efforts undermined the report because Skadden Arps wanted it to be independent and free from outside influence.
Willian Scwhartz, Van der Zwaan’s defense attorney, pushed back. He said that when Van der Zwaan lied, it was to prevent his law firm from discovering that he leaked the report to Gates, not an effort to obstruct Mr. Mueller’s investigation.
Van der Zwaan returned to the United States a second time to meet with Mr. Mueller’s team so he could “correct the record,” Mr. Schwartz said
“The record was corrected in the most conceivably dramatic way possible, and it was corrected by Alexander Van der Zwaan,” he said.
But Mr. Weissmann said Van der Zwaan only returned to the U.S. and corrected the record after he was caught and subpoenaed to appear before a grand jury.
The Van der Zwaan case developed out of Mr. Mueller’s investigation into the work of Gates and Manafort in the Ukraine more than a decade ago rather than Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Prosecuting Van der Zwaan is likely seen as an aggressive step to deter anyone from lying to Mr. Mueller’s team.
So far, 19 people, including 13 Russians, have been indicted in Mr. Mueller’s probe. In addition to Gates, former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos have also pleaded guilty. Flynn and Papadopoulos are cooperating with the government.
President Trump has called the investigation a “hoax” and a “witch hunt.”
• Jeff Mordock can be reached at email@example.com.
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