First person sentenced in Mueller probe gets 30 days in prison - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

First person sentenced in Mueller probe gets 30 days in prison

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Alex van der Zwaan raises his arms as he goes through security check point during his arrival Federal District Court in Washington on April 3, 2018.Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP Alex van der Zwaan raises his arms as he goes through security check point during his arrival Federal District Court in Washington on April 3, 2018.Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP

A London lawyer who admitted to lying to Robert Mueller's team in November 2017 was ordered Tuesday to 30 days in prison, the first sentence imposed since the special counsel was appointed nearly a year ago.

Alex van der Zwaan, 33, pleaded guilty in February to making false statements when he was interviewed last fall about his phone calls and e-mails with a former Trump campaign aide, Richard Gates.

Van der Zwaan addressed the judge directly, saying, "What I did was wrong. I apologize to the court, my wife and my family."

He was also fined $20,000 and two months of supervised release was imposed.

Judge Amy Berman Jackson said that his false statements were not an incidental mistake but a knowing lie during an investigation of international importance. She said she took into account the fact that van der Zwaan is an attorney and should have known better.

Van der Zwaan "put his personal interests ahead of justice," the judge said.

His attorney had asked that he serve no time. Van der Zwaan's wife is six months pregnant and "needs him now," the lawyer said.

Prosecutors said van der Zwaan had lied and covered it up, trying to destroy emails. They asked that he be sentenced to some time behind bars as a "general deterrent" but did not make a specific recommendation as to the length.

The case did not involve Mueller's central mission of examining potential help for Russian election meddling. It instead grew out of the investigation of two former Trump campaign aides, Paul Manafort and Richard Gates, over work they did in Ukraine more than a decade ago.

Prosecuting van der Zwaan was more likely intended to send a message that Mueller's team would move aggressively against anyone who tried to obstruct their investigation rather than to enlist van der Zwaan's help. The terms of his plea did not require him to cooperate with the prosecutors.

Ty Cobb, President Donald Trump's lawyer who handles the Russia matter, declined to comment on the van der Zwaan sentencing.

As a lawyer in an international law firm, van der Zwaan worked with Gates and Manafort for a Ukrainian political party closely aligned with Russia. The firm, Skadden, Arps, Meagher & Flom, was hired by the government of former Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovych in 2012 to examine the prosecution of one of his former political rivals.

The firm's work was supposed to be independent of the lobbying by Manafort and Gates, but van der Zwaan leaked a copy of the report and talking points to Gates and lied about later conversations in 2016 with Gates about how the firm was paid and potential criminal charges against the firm in Ukraine.

Mueller's team has separately charged Gates and Manafort with illegally hiding millions of dollars they earned doing work in Ukraine. Gates has pleaded guilty but no sentencing date has been set, while Manafort faces trial in early July.

Van der Zwaan's lawyers had noted that two weeks after making the statements he admitted were wrong, the lawyer returned to the U.S. to meet with Mueller's team again and correct the record. When he lied the first time, they said, he was not trying to impede the investigation but instead wanted to prevent his law firm from discovering that he had misled his supervisors about his contact with Gates.

Van der Zwaan's father-in-law, German Khan, is a prominent Russian billionaire.

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