U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson sentenced Alex van der Zwaan — a Dutch lawyer who admitted to lying to Special Counsel Robert Mueller about conversations he had with Trump campaign aide Rick Gates in 2016 — to 30 days in jail and ordered him to pay a $20,000 fine.
Tuesday’s sentencing hearing was the first of the Mueller investigation since the special counsel was appointed 11 months ago.
Lawyers for the 33-year-old van der Zwaan — whose wife in the United Kingdom is pregnant — had asked the judge to impose no jail time and a fine. The lawyers for Mueller made no specific recommendation for van der Zwaan’s sentence, but stressed the need for people to not lie or withhold evidence in government investigations.
“I just can’t say, ‘Pay your fine at the door and go,'” Jackson said at the hearing, in explaining her sentence.
Van der zwaan — a London-based attorney then-employed by the tony firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom — worked with Gates and former Trump campaign chairman on a report released in 2012 about the prosecution of former Ukrainian prime minister Yuliya Tymoshenko. Gates and Manafort were working for Tymoshenko’s political rival Victor Yanukovych at the time.
At a November 2017 interview with the special counsel, van der Zwaan lied to Mueller’s team about conversations he had with Gates in September 2016, as well as with a person known in court documents as “Person A.” Person A is widely believed to be Konstantin Kilimnik, a Russian who worked on Manafort’s and Gates’ projects in Ukraine. Mueller has described Person A as having “ties to the Russian intelligence service.”
Van der Zwaan also withheld emails from the special counsel investigation — emails he did not turn over to his law firm at the time for production. Van der zwaan has since lost his job at Skadden.
Van der Zwaan came back to the United States weeks later to correct his lies to the special counsel’s office, but at Tuesday’s hearing, there was discussion as to whether his decision to correct the record was purely voluntary or at the prompting of his lawyers.
According to prosecutors, van der Zwaan was presented with emails that he had withheld from the special counsel during the initial interview. He was being represented by lawyers at Skadden at the time.
“He was essentially caught red-handed,” the judge said Tuesday.
Andrew Weissmann, representing Mueller’s team, also emphasized that was this was not a just a one-off lie but a serious of actions by van der Zwaan to cover up evidence of the 2016 conversations. That argument seemed to resonate with Jackson, who later said that van der Zwaan was no “deer in headlights” in the initial interview, and that he knew what he was lying about and that the information he was witholding was important
When it was his turn to defend his client, van der Zwaan lawyer William Schwartz brought up van der Zwaan’s family situation — his wife’s pregnancy has been difficult, and his mother is also suffering a health issue — and the stress that the four-plus months that he has been in the United States has put on on him and his loved ones. At one point Schwartz suggested that van der Zwaan had been effectively serving a sentence because he was stuck at a residence hotel with nothing to do, and that his calls with his attorney were the highlight of his day.
Judge Jackson said she was not “terribly moved” by the complaint, and noted if he was so bored, he could have spent time doing community service.
She did not appear to be taking lightly the sentence she handed down and took a 30-minute recess to mull things over before her announcement of the sentence. She acknowledged the further stress his family would endure and is allowing him to self-surrender. But she noted the deterrence effect her sentence needed to have.
“Being able to write a check and walk away” would not deter others, she said.