Mueller's Move on Ex-Skadden Lawyer Puts Heat on Manafort, Gates

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AFP Contributor Image

Prosecutors investigating possible collusion between the Trump election campaign and the Kremlin scored another victory on Tuesday after a lawyer who worked with former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort in Ukraine was charged with lying to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The two pages of accusations against van der Zwaan, filed on February 16 and unsealed Tuesday, came in the form of a criminal information, which prosecutors typically file before a guilty plea.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller has charged a lawyer with ties to the Ukrainian government with lying to federal investigators.

Per the court filing, van der Zwaan made false statements about his last communication with Gates, which the document says took place in mid-August 2016 and consisted of an "innocuous text message". They also say Van der Zwaan deleted emails sought by the special counsel's office, including one between him and Person A from September 2016. Parts of Steele's work were also used in obtaining a secret warrant to monitor Carter Page, a former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser. He enlisted the firm in his effort to shield a client, Viktor Yanukovych, the Russia-aligned president of Ukraine, from worldwide condemnation.

Andrew Weissmann, a prosecutor with Mueller's office, told the court that Manafort and Gates funneled $4 million through offshore accounts to pay the law firm - which he did not identify by name - and Washington-based lobbying firms in connection with the report.

Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP issued a statement Tuesday after news broke that Alex van der Zwaan had been charged with lying to investigators.

Alex van der Zwaan, who is reportedly married to the daughter of a Russian-Ukrainian oligarch, was charged with making false statements in connection to work he did in Ukraine. The attorneys included van der Zwaan. The Skadden team was headed by Gregory Craig, a partner who had worked as President Barack Obama's White House counsel from 2009 to 2010 and for President Bill Clinton during his impeachment.

According to the government, Van Der Zwaan is prepared to admit that he lied to the government about his email communications and failed to furnish information that investigators had requested.

As part of a plea bargain he has been cooperating with the investigation.

He had given a public relations firm a copy of the report before its public release, and handed Gates talking points about the report that would help the Ukrainian clients, against the direction of a more senior lawyer at the Skadden law firm, according to court documents and prosecutors' descriptions in court. They were also interested in payments for that work, the newspaper reported. But previous year, after the Justice Department began inquiring about it, Skadden refunded to the Ukrainian government $567,000 - about half of the total it was reportedly paid.

According to court papers attached to his plea agreement, the conversations, including some using encrypted applications, occurred in September 2016 and involved discussions about possible criminal charges being brought in Ukraine against a former Ukrainian official, Manafort and "Law Firm A", an apparent reference to Skadden Arps.

Ms Tymoshenko was jailed the year before for criminally exceeding her powers, charges she said were politically motivated.

Manafort and Gates worked as political consultants to Ukraine's former pro-Russia president, Viktor Yanukovych, who was forced from office in 2014.

The special counsel's office has charged a lawyer who did work for the Ukrainian Ministry of Justice with lying to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, according to court filings unsealed on Tuesday. Manafort referred the center, a nonprofit group based in Brussels that had done work with Yanukovych, to the other two Washington-based firms.

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. The special counsel's office also unsealed a criminal case against a California man who pleaded guilty to identity fraud.

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