The first sentence in special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe has been handed down.A federal judge sentenced Dutch lawyer Alex van der Zwaan to 30 days in jail and a $20,000 fine on Tuesday after he pleaded guilty to lying to special counsel Robert Mueller and withholding documents related to the Russia investigation. While 19 people have been charged in Mueller’s probe so far, Van der Zwaan became the first to get jail time.
Van der Zwaan’s ties to the Russia investigation are tangled. Long before Paul Manafort and his associate Rick Gates started working for the Trump campaign, Van der Zwaan did lobbying work with them for Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych. Van der Zwaan came to Mueller’s attention in the process of investigating Manafort’s and Gates’ ties to Russia.When Mueller’s investigators questioned Van der Zwaan in November 2017 about his relationship with Gates and Manafort, they caught him in a lie about the timing of his last communication with his former business associates. Van der Zwaan said his last communication with Gates was in August 2016 and his last communication with a “Person A” was in 2014. Turns out he had communicated with Gates and “Person A” in September 2016 regarding their 2012 Ukrainian lobbying work. He also withheld emails Mueller had asked him to produce.Van der Zwaan’s work with Manafort means he may be able to assist Mueller with the case against Manafort, although the terms of his plea agreement do not require him to cooperate. Manafort has been charged with a range of financial crimes associated with his foreign lobbying, and Mueller is investigating allegations that Manafort colluded with Russian government officials to interfere in the 2016 U.S. election.Gates has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI as part of the Mueller investigation; money laundering charges against him were dropped as a result of plea deal. Former Trump campaign foreign policy advisor George Papadopoulos also pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI in the Russia probe. They’re both cooperating with Mueller’s probe now.Cover image: Alex van der Zwaan leaves Federal District Court in Washington, Tuesday, April 3, 2018. Holding the sign up is Bill Christeson from the Washington area. A federal judge sentenced Alex van der Zwaan to 30 days in prison. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)