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Russia investigation leads to guilty plea for lawyer linked to Trump's former campaign aides

Alex van der Zwaan worked with Paul Manafort and Richard Gates, who were indicted by Mueller

A lawyer linked to two of President Trump’s former campaign aides ensnared in the continuing Russia inquiry has pleaded guilty to lying to investigators for special counsel Robert S. Mueller III.

The lawyer, Alex van der Zwaan, previously worked at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, a prominent law firm that generated a controversial report used to defend the former pro-Russian government of Ukraine against accusations that it had improperly prosecuted a political opponent.

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Van der Zwaan, 33, the son-in-law of a Russian oligarch, had worked with Paul Manafort and Richard Gates, former Trump campaign aides who have been indicted by Mueller on charges related to alleged money laundering, including the use of offshore accounts to funnel $4 million used to pay for the law firm’s report.

He is the fourth person to plead guilty in Mueller’s investigation of Russian involvement in the 2016 presidential campaign and the possible involvement of Trump’s campaign.

Gates, Manafort’s former business partner, is expected to plead guilty in the coming days and testify against Manafort, The Times reported on Sunday.

At a hearing in U.S. District Court in Washington, van der Zwaan pleaded guilty to one count of lying during interviews at the special counsel’s office, including about his communications with Gates. He also admitted deleting an email exchange with someone based in the Ukraine, who was not named by prosecutors.

Van der Zwaan said he expected a sentence no longer than six months. U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson said he had offered some cooperation with Mueller’s investigation, although it was unclear whether he is continuing to provide information in the Russia inquiry. Andrew Weissmann, one of Mueller’s top deputies, said his office had not filed a cooperation agreement as part of the deal.

On Friday, Mueller filed charges against 13 Russians for their efforts to use social media to stir chaos and confrontation in American voters and to support Trump over Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Manafort, once Trump’s campaign manager, was a longtime advisor to Viktor Yanukovich, the former leader of Ukraine, who was allied with Moscow.

The Yanukovich government had jailed a political rival, Yulia Tymoshenko, and commissioned the law firm’s report in hopes of countering a wave of international outrage. The Skadden investigation, supervised in part by Gregory Craig, former White House counsel under President Obama, said there wasn’t strong evidence of “political motivation” in the prosecution.

Van der Zwaan speaks Russian and is married to the daughter of a Russian oligarch, German Khan, who also has a connection with the Russia investigation. Khan has sued Fusion GPS, the research firm that paid for a now-famous dossier compiled by former British intelligence agent Christopher Steele.

Van der Zwaan played an important role in planning the rollout of the Skadden report, which was released in December 2012, Weissmann said.

In interviews, Van der Zwaan told investigators that he last communicated with Gates with an innocuous text message in August 2016 and said he had no idea why investigators had not received certain emails.

In fact, Van der Zwaan called his Ukranian contact “and discussed in Russian that formal criminal charges might be brought against a former Ukrainian minister of justice,” along with the Skadden firm and Manafort, court papers say. He recorded a call with Gates, and also called the “senior partner” at the prominent firm and partially recorded that conversation, prosecutors said.

He admitted destroying emails sought by prosecutors.

In a statement, the Skadden firm said it terminated van der Zwaan last year and has been cooperating with the investigation.

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Van der Zwaan, a Dutch citizen, has turned in his passport and is restricted to Washington and Manhattan. The judge agreed to expedite his sentencing because his wife, who lives in London, is expecting a baby in August. The sentencing was scheduled for April 3.

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