Former Trump campaign officials Paul J. Manafort Jr. and Rick Gates III were communicating with a Russian agent in the fall leading up to the 2016 election while doing work for the Ukraine and laundering profits, according to a court document released by Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller in March.
Gates testified Monday Aug. 6 and admitted in court that he and Manafort committed crimes together.
The testimony comes months after the release of details from Mueller that Gates and Manafort talked ot Russian agents. But Gates’ testimony Monday went far beyond and forayed into financial crimes the two committed together.
Back in March, the connect-the-dots 7-page ‘sentencing memorandum’ from Mueller is for Alex van der Zwaan, son-in-law of Russian oligarch German Khan, who pleaded guilty to lying to Mueller’s team in February. In the new document, the Dutch lawyer admitted he was aware of the relationship with the Russian spy, known as ‘Person A.’
But van der Zwaan lied and withheld evidence that Trump deputy campaign manager Gates and ‘Person A’ were directly communicating, the court record shows. A month after the Manafort and Gates indictments, on Nov. 17, 2017, when interviewed by FBI and Special Counsel agents, van der Zwaan said his last communication with Gates was in mid August of 2016 and his last communication with “Person A” was in 2014.
Mueller’s memo says the FBI made investigators aware that ‘Person A’ had ties to the Russian intelligence service in 2016 and in van der Zwaan’s first interview with federal investigators he “admitted that he knew of that connection stating that Gates told him person A was a former Russian intelligence officer with GRU,” though denied any contact. The Mueller sentencing document shows that was a lie.
van der Zwaan was sentenced April 3 to serve 30 days in prison and was fined $20,000.
Here’s what you need to know and why this matters:
1. Gates, a Trump Campaign Deputy Turned Liaison, Was Tied to a Russian Spy. Gates is Cooperating With the Government in the Russia Investigation
Gates and the unnamed former Russian intelligence agent were in direct communication the months leading up to the election, court records show. And while van der Zwaan lied about his role and any communication between he, Gates and the Russian, he did tell Mueller investigators that he knew the individual known as Person A was in fact a former Russian intelligence officer with the GRU.”
GRU stands for Glavnoye Razvedyvatel’noye Upravleniye, the military intelligence agency for the Russian Federation. It’s actually an English translation for Main Intelligence Directorate, known in Russian by the acronym ГРУ.
Gates, described as a Manafort “protégé and junior partner” served as deputy campaign chairman for Trump. In August, when under a cloud related to the Ukraine situation, Manafort checked out and Gates transitioned to the Republican National Committee acting as a Trump campaign liaison and fundraiser. Following the election, according to a report, Gates and other former Trump staff including Vice President Mike Pence aide Nick Ayers, created America First Policies backed financially by Robert and Rebekah Mercer with a goal of supporting Trump’s agenda.
In February it was widely reported that after a guilty plea, Gates was not cooperating with Mueller. And Gates wrote a letter to his family and his friends, ABC News reported, that described his “change of heart.”
“The reality of how long this legal process will likely take, the cost, and the circus-like atmosphere of an anticipated trial are too much. I will better serve my family moving forward by exiting this process,” the letter ABC News obtained read in part.
Notably, the New York Times reported Wednesday that in 2017, Trump lawyer John Dowd floated the idea of pardons for Michael T. Flynn and Manafort “to influence their decisions about whether to plead guilty and cooperate in the investigation.”
2. Gates, Manafort & van der Zwaan Worked Together on a Ukrainian Government-Commissioned Report Whose Illegal Profits Were Laundered & Pocketed by Manafort & Gates, Mueller Says
Both Manafort and Gates were indicted on charges that included conspiracy against the United States; conspiracy to launder money; serving as an unregistered agent of a foreign principal; false and misleading Foreign Agents Registration Act statements; false statements; and seven counts of failure to file reports of foreign bank and financial accounts. Those were the initial charges. In early 2018, new charges were focused on lobbying and financial activities that were not connected to Trump. What Gates agreed to plead on, and cooperate in exchange for, were reduced from more than a dozen charges down to two: conspiracy against the U.S. and lying to federal agents.
The charges all stemmed from the “unregistered work on behalf of the Ukraine” both men were deeply involved in, Mueller says they, with van der Zwaan worked on “commissioning and disseminating a report concerning the trial of the former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko.” Mueller says “Manafort profited substantially, laundered those profits, and withheld that from U.S. authorities including the Treasury and Justice departments. “Manifold created a Web of entities and corresponding bank accounts in the United States and abroad to hide and facilitate the movement of funds,” Mueller wrote.
Manafort had arranged for Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, the behemoth and global law firm van der Zwaan worked for, to be hired by Ukrainian Minister of Justice. Mueller says, “the law firm had been paid over $5 million for to work largely through third-party payments by a Ukrainian oligarch, funneled through a Manafort and Cypriot (Cyprus, Greece) account. The Ukraine potential criminal matter concerning allegation that in 2012 to 2013 then governor of the Ukraine her disclose that the firm was being paid only about $12,000, an amount above which Ukraine law would have required a different procurement process.”
The gathering of data for he report included direct contact with the former Russian GRU spy, prosecutors say. van der Zwaan who’d denied he was in contact with the Russian and Gates in the fall of 2016, and who was “expressly warned by the government that it is a crime to lie to the Special Counsel’s Office, that lying could constitute a federal crime, and that such conduct would carry with it the possibility of going to jail if he were convicted (nonetheless) deliberately and repeatedly lied.”
3. Mueller Says Alex van der Zwaan ‘Deliberately & Repeatedly Lied’ & Also ‘Destroyed’ & ‘Failed to Produce’ Evidence
Mueller says in the sentencing memorandum that, “Instead of truthfully answering questions about his contacts with Gates and Person A, van der Zwaan lied. He denied having substantive conversations with Gates and Person A in 2016.”
van der Zwaan was confronted with an email dated September 12, 2016, sent by the Russian to van der Zwaan at his Skadden work email which read, albeit written in Russian, that “Person A would like to exchange a few words via WhatsApp or Telegram,” court documents read. “van der Zwaan lied and said he had no idea why that email had not been produced to the government, and further lied when he stated that he had not communicated with Person A in response to the email.”
And, the special prosecutor says, van der Zwaan withheld and or destroyed, or tried to, evidence that he’d been in contact with Manafort, Gates and the Russian. Speaking of the Russian, Manafort knew him well: “Person A worked with Manafort and Gates in connection with their Ukraine lobbying work. Person A is a foreign national and was a close business colleague of Manafort and Gates. He worked in Ukraine at Manafort’s company Davis Manafort International, LLC (DMI). Up until mid-August 2016, Person A lived in Kiev and Moscow.”
In any event, Mueller says, the email was one of the pieces of evidence van der Zwaan tried to withhold or destroy. And, it turns out, not only was there an email, van der Zwaan had conversations in September and October of 2016 with Gates, Manafort and the Russian “about potential criminal charges in the Ukraine” in reference to the report and how the firm was compensated and those calls were not only memorable, Mueller says, but were also recorded because a Skadden senior partner was working on the project.
In those recorded conversations van der Zwaan was told there “were additional payments” and the “official contract was only part of the iceberg” and that the story “may become a blow for you and me personally.”
4. van der Zwaan Pleaded Guilty & Asked for Leniency. Mueller’s Sentencing Document Makes Its Case
In his sentencing memo, Mueller refers to van der Zwaan’s lies to federal investigators dozens of times in various contexts. But beyond that, Mueller argues that as an experienced attorney working with a globally prestigious firm, van der Zwaan certainly knew better than to lie to federal agents: in November of 2017 van der Zwaan, “lied repeatedly and prior to which …destroyed and failed to produce pertinent documents “
But beyond the crime of lying to federal investigators and trying to destroy or withhold evidence, Mueller does not see any reason why van der Zwaan should get any breaks beyond what is permitted under federal sentencing guidelines.
Mueller’s memo to the court doesn’t recommend a sentence for van der Zwaan, instead it bullets the “nature of the offenses and the offender.”
A list of van der Zwaan’s crimes and references to why his requests for leniency and proffer of mitigation. CNN reported that van der Zwaan’s attorney has written that his client’s “world has collapsed as a result of his decision to lie to law enforcement.”
“Although he has had occasional visitors and took a car trip with his wife over the Christmas holiday, his existence has largely been solitary. He lives alone in a hotel in a city where he has no close friends. His days are empty and lonely,” he said, according to CNN.
Mueller addresses the issue of his wife’s pregnancy but beyond that, is stoically following the sentencing guidelines.
“He’s a person of ample financial means both personally and through his father-in-law prominent Russian oligarch who has paid substantial sums to the defendant and his wife he can pay any fines imposed,” the court record reads. “In short he is a person to him every advantage in life has been given, and from whom the government and the professional bar rightly expected candor and uprightness “
Mueller’s position is that even though van der Zwaan eventually produced the recording made using Skadden recording equipment and “didn’t further obstruct justice or further disobey the instruction of his employees and defy the law, it’s not a mitigating factor; he doesn’t deserve credit for adhering to the law,” Mueller says.
Mueller means business.
“…there might eventually be additional professional consequences that befall a foreign lawyer who commits a United States felony, those consequences do not themselves obviate the need for his current sentence to reflect the seriousness of his crime, to promote respect for the law, or to provide adequate specific and general deterrence.“
van der Zwaan’s charge carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison, though he qualifies for a recommended sentence of zero to six months. He also faces a fine of up to $250,000.
5. Fired by Skadden Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, van der Zwaan ‘Went Native’ After Being Told Not to Share the ‘White-Washed” Report
Manafort arranged for Skadden to be hired by Ukrainian Minister of Justice. According to the Kyiv Post, van der Zwaan was part of the firm’s legal team looking into the imprisonment of Yulia Tymoshenko and his role was described as “serving as a rule-of-law consultant to the Ministry of Justice of Ukraine and writing a report on due process issues associated with a high-profile prosecution.” His father-in-law Russian oligarch Khan was thought to have been the go-between for Ukrainian officials and van der Zwaan. By the time the report was completed, Skadden clearly thought a promotional roll-out was mistake and ordered it not be handed over to a public relations firm.
The commissioned report was said to have cost $12,000 for an independent review. Manafort and Gates were paid more than $5 million. It’s not clear about van der Zwaan compensation. In any event, once it was completed, Skadden decided not to hire a public relations firm to roll it out and promote it because, Mueller says, the law firm didn’t want to be perceived as “whitewashing or doing public relations work on behalf of the Ukraine.”
So van der Zwaan was told by his firm not to not share copies. He defied that order and instead, a witness told investigators, “went native.”
He was told not to share copies of the report with the public relations firm retained by the government of the Ukraine.
But as Mueller wrote, in the words of one witness, van der Zwaan ahd “gone native”—that is, he had grown too close to Manafort, Gates, and Person A and instead “leaked an advance copy of the report to the public relations firm retained to ‘spin’ the report, despite his knowing that this was against the express wishes of the firm. When it was discovered that the press relations firm had an advance copy, van der Zwaan lied to the senior partner on the matter and said he had no idea how the firm obtained the draft. In addition, far from distancing himself from spinning the report, van der Zwaan orally gave Gates talking points as to how to present the report in an advantageous light to Ukraine.”