A federal court judge in Washington on Tuesday sentenced London-based Dutch attorney Alex van der Zwaan to 30 days of jail time for lying to the special counsel. It was the first sentence to stem from the investigation.
Van der Zwaan, 33, was also sentenced a $20,000 fine and two months probation, during which he is allowed to go home to London and witness the birth of his first son. His wife is currently six months pregnant.
The sentence was seen as somewhat of a victory for the special counsel, although it did not have anything to do with collusion.
Van der Zwaan had faced a maximum of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine for lying to investigators, although his predicted sentence was between zero and six months.
Judge Amy Jackson took about 15 minutes to decide on the sentence, after hearing statements from the special counsel team and van der Zwaan’s attorney, William Schwartz.
Schwartz emphasized van der Zwaan’s attempts to correct the record after he was caught lying, as well as his clean history and character. His attorneys pushed for a fine of $9,500 and no jail time.
Meanwhile, the prosecution — led by Andrew Weissmann — argued that as an attorney, van der Zwaan knew he was lying to the special counsel team and only corrected the record after he was caught and should not be given any credit for doing so. They also emphasized the need to show there were consequences to lying to the government.
“This is not an isolated incident of simply making one bad decision,” Weissmann said.
Van der Zwaan, dressed in a slim black suit with a white pocket square, white shirt, and teal blue tie, also addressed the judge.
“What I did was wrong. I apologize to the court for my conduct. I apologize to my wife and family for the pain that I have caused,” he said.
Jackson, in announcing her decision, said she had little empathy for van der Zwaan’s actions, which she said were entirely of his own doing. She agreed with the prosecution that he knew what he was doing when he lied to investigators, although she said she did not fully understand why.
“This is not something that happened to him. This is something he did,” she said. “He put his personal interest ahead of the interest of justice. There’s not much good that can be said of what was done.”
However, she said she gave him credit for coming forward and admitting to investigators that he lied, and handing over all evidence he had withheld. And she appeared to have sympathy for his wife’s situation, and took into account letters his family had sent attesting to his character.
She also offered a few words of encouragement, telling him that as a soon-to-be father “much of the story of your life is about to be written,” and that this was only one chapter of it. She also noted that he had a loving family who had the resources to help him emotionally and financially.
“This glass was dropped on a very thick carpet,” she said.
But ultimately, she said she needed to show that there were consequences for lying to the government, and that they had to be sufficient enough that he felt them.
“We’re not talking about a traffic ticket,” she said, adding that there needed to be “a period of some incarceration.”
She allowed for van der Zwaan to voluntarily turn himself into jail, noting that he was not a flight risk or a danger to the community. She also noted he had the right to appeal her decision, though Schwartz did not indicate the defense would do so. He declined to make a statement after the hearing.
During Jackson’s announcement, van der Zwaan stood before the judge with his head bowed and his hands grasped behind his back, and occasionally glanced over at his attorney. After his sentence was announced, he remained expressionless, but glanced back at his father.
There was no mention of collusion during the sentencing hearing, which lasted about two hours.
Van der Zwaan, a young lawyer with a promising future, became caught up with the special counsel over employment at the large international law firm Skadden Arps and his relationship with lobbyists Paul Manafort and his business partner Rick Gates.
Skadden Arps was hired by Manafort, who worked as a political consultant in Ukraine, to produce an independent report in 2012 about then-Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych’s jailing of former Ukrainian prime minister and political rival Yulia Tymoshenko.
Although it was billed as an independent report, van der Zwaan allegedly provided a copy of the report in advance of its publication to a public relations firm working for the Ukrainian Ministry of Justice, and provided talking points about the report to Gates which would allow him to spin the report.
The report findings contradicted the conclusion that Tymoshenko was unjustly jailed. Although the Ukrainian government claimed to have paid only $12,000 for the report, prosecutors alleged that Manafort and Gates used an offshore account to pay $4 million for the report.
The special counsel, in investigating Manafort and Gates, asked Skadden Arps for information that could be relevant to its investigation. Van der Zwaan first met with the special counsel team last November. During that meeting, he hid email and phone conversations he had in September and October 2016 with Gates and a business associate based in Ukraine, who is reportedly Konstantin Kilimnik.
Van der Zwaan said he last communicated with Gates in mid-August 2016, via text message. He also deleted emails requested by the special counsel instead of turning them over. Some of the emails discussed the possibility of him leaving the law firm around 2012 and 2013 to work directly for Gates and Manafort.
During that November meeting with the special counsel, he was confronted with an email the special counsel had obtained through other means.
Van der Zwaan allegedly lied again, but during a second interview with the special counsel in December, he admitted to lying and failing to turn over all relevant emails.
He voluntarily turned over his personal electronic devices so they could be searched, and turned over recordings he had made of his conversations with Gates, Kiliminik, as well as a senior partner at his firm, former Obama White House counsel Greg Craig.
Kilimnik ran Manafort’s office in Ukraine when he was a political consultant there.