Attorney Pleads Guilty in Mueller Probe02/21 06:20
A 33-year-old attorney fired last year by a prominent international law firm
became the fourth person to plead guilty in special counsel Robert Mueller's
Russia investigation, admitting Tuesday that he lied to federal investigators
about his contacts with a Trump campaign official.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- A 33-year-old attorney fired last year by a prominent
international law firm became the fourth person to plead guilty in special
counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation, admitting Tuesday that he lied
to federal investigators about his contacts with a Trump campaign official.
Alex van der Zwaan, who worked at the law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher
& Flom, admitted in Washington's federal court Tuesday to making false
statements about his interactions with former Trump campaign aide Rick Gates.
His plea deal may allow him to avoid prison.
Van der Zwaan's plea comes on the heels of an extraordinary indictment from
Mueller last week that charged 13 Russian individuals and three Russian
companies in a hidden but robust social media effort that provoked
on-the-ground rallies and sought to meddle in the 2016 U.S. presidential
election by denigrating Democrat Hillary Clinton and boosting the successful
campaign of Republican Donald Trump.
But the charge against the attorney, who is also the son-in-law of a Russian
billionaire, does not involve election meddling or relate to the Trump
campaign's operations. Instead, it stems from the special counsel's
investigation into Paul Manafort, Trump's former campaign chair, and Gates, who
is a longtime business associate of Manafort.
Gates and Manafort were indicted last year on charges that they conspired to
launder millions of dollars and directed a covert Washington lobbying campaign
on behalf of pro-Russian Ukrainian interests. Both men have pleaded not guilty.
On Tuesday, van der Zwaan, a Dutch citizen who authorities say lives in
London, admitted to lying to federal investigators while they questioned him
about the production of a report that Manafort and Gates are accused of
secretly funding by funneling $4 million through an offshore account.
The report, authored by Skadden Arps, focused on the trial of former
Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, a political foe of former Ukrainian
President Viktor Yanukovych, whose political party was a client of Gates and
The false statements van der Zwaan admitted to making involved the timing of
his last communication with Gates and a person, described as "Person A," who
was a longtime business associate of Manafort and Gates in Ukraine.
According to court papers attached to his plea agreement, the conversations,
including some using encrypted applications, occurred in September 2016 and
involved possible criminal charges being brought in Ukraine against a former
Ukrainian official, Manafort and "Law Firm A," an apparent reference to Skadden
The Nov. 3, 2017, questioning of van der Zwaan occurred just days after
Manafort's indictment and, according to court papers, while prosecutors still
were investigating potential violations of the Foreign Agents Registration Act.
The charge against van der Zwaan carries a maximum sentence of five years in
prison, though sentencing guideline ranges discussed in court placed the more
likely punishment from zero to six months.
In addition to the false statements, court papers reveal that in late July
or early August of 2012, van der Zwaan, without authorization, gave an advance
draft of the Tymoshenko report to a public relations firm working for the
Ukrainian Ministry of Justice. In September 2012, he also provided Gates with
talking points for use in a public relations campaign.
On Tuesday, Skadden Arps released a statement saying it had fired van der
Zwaan last year, and it "has been cooperating with authorities in connection
with this matter."
"The conduct to which Alex has pled guilty is contrary to our values,
policies and expectations," the firm added.
Last year, van der Zwaan married the daughter of Ukrainian-Russian
billionaire German Khan, according to the Russian editions of Forbes and Tatler
Khan, who was born in Kiev, shares control of one of Russia's biggest
financial and industrial investment conglomerates, Alfa Group, with fellow
billionaires Mikhail Fridman and Alexei Kuzmichev. Forbes estimates Khan is
worth about $10 billion.
Khan and his partners are suing Buzzfeed News over its publication of a
dossier of allegations about ties between Trump and Russia. The dossier, which
is a collection of memoranda authored by former British spy Christopher Steele,
makes several claims about Alfa Group that the partners say are false and
Buzzfeed is fighting the lawsuit. The dossier has become a political
lightning rod because Steele's work was funded in part by Clinton's campaign
and the Democratic National Committee. Parts of Steele's work were also used in
obtaining a secret warrant to monitor Carter Page, a former Trump campaign
foreign policy adviser.