Special counsel Robert Mueller has filed a charge against a lawyer for lying to investigators about his interaction with former Trump campaign aide Rick Gates in September 2016.
The filing is further evidence of Mueller’s investigation of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and Gates and their work for Russian-allied clients.
Alex Van Der Zwaan, who is expected to plead guilty Tuesday afternoon, is also accused of lying about the failure to turn over an email communication to the special counsel’s office. He was speaking with investigators about his work with international law firm Skadden Arps in 2012, when Manafort arranged for the firm to be hired by the Ukrainian Minister of Justice to prepare a report on the trial of Yulia Tymoshenko.
She is one of the top political rivals of former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, who hired Manafort and Gates as political consultants for more than a decade. After Yanukovych narrowly defeated Tymoshenko in the 2010 presidential election, she was jailed on charges of corruption that were seen by many as being politically motivated. Skadden produced a report that said the process was legal. She was freed after Yanukovych’s ouster in 2014.
The prosecutors’ criminal charge explains how Van Der Zwaan spoke with Gates and an unnamed person in September 2016 about the Ukrainian report and recorded the calls. At the time, Gates was still working with the Trump campaign.
The charging document also says he claimed that he exchanged an “innocuous text message” with Gates in mid-August 2016, and said falsely that was their last interaction. Around that time, Manafort was in the spotlight for the work he and Gates did in Ukraine. The New York Times reported that secret documents uncovered in Ukraine listed millions of dollars in illegal payments meant for Manafort, and CNN reported that Manafort’s lobbying firm was under scrutiny by the FBI and Justice Department. Days after these reports in mid-August 2016, Manafort resigned from the Trump campaign.
Gates also deleted and then failed to produce emails he exchanged with the unnamed person in September, the charging document says.
There’s no indication from the document that Van Der Zwaan was in touch with Gates about the political adviser’s work in the election, though the charging document is the first evidence that prosecutors have sought — and potentially even received emails and recorded phone calls related to — Gates’ interactions while he worked for Trump. The separate charges Gates faces in federal court involve activities related to his Ukrainian work with Manafort in years prior to their Trump campaign work.
Van Der Zwaan has a plea hearing scheduled for Tuesday afternoon at US District Court in Washington, DC.
Skadden Arps said in a statement Tuesday that the firm terminated Van Der Zwaan’s employment last year and is cooperating with authorities.
Asked about the charge, White House deputy press secretary Raj Shah told Fox News that the development is unrelated to President Donald Trump’s actions and “only reinforces our point when it comes to the special counsel’s investigation … there is no evidence of collusion because none existed.”
Gates close to plea deal
Gates is finalizing a plea deal with Mueller’s office, indicating he’s poised to cooperate in the investigation, sources familiar with the case told CNN last week.
He has already spoken to Mueller’s team about his case and has been in plea negotiations for about a month. His cooperation could be another building block for Mueller in a possible case against Trump or key members of his team.
Once a plea deal is in place, Gates would become the third known cooperator in Mueller’s sprawling probe into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. It would also increase the pressure to cooperate on Manafort, who has pleaded not guilty to Mueller’s indictment and is preparing for a trial on alleged financial crimes unrelated to the campaign. Gates pleaded not guilty on October 30 alongside Manafort.