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Prominent lawyer pleads guilty to lying to FBI in Russia probe

President Donald Trump leaves the White House, Friday,

President Donald Trump leaves the White House, Friday, Feb. 16, 2018, in Washington. Credit: AP / Manuel Balce Ceneta

WASHINGTON — Special Counsel Robert Mueller on Tuesday announced the latest indictment in his sweeping probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election — charging a prominent attorney with lying to authorities about his work with two of President Donald Trump’s former campaign aides.

Alex van der Zwaan, 33, a Dutch national, pleaded guilty in federal court on Tuesday to charges that he lied to investigators about his conversations with former Trump campaign aide Rick Gates. Gates and Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort were indicted on charges last year related to their work for pro-Russia officials in Ukraine.

According to Tuesday’s two-page indictment, van der Zwaan withheld information from investigators last year about his conversations with Gates, and “he deleted and otherwise did not produce e-mails sought by the special counsel’s office.”

Federal prosecutors, in court filings contend van der Zwaan lied to investigators about his role in producing a report on the trial of former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, which was written to be favorable to her political foe, former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, whose political party was a client of Gates and Manafort.

Mueller’s indictment of van der Zwaan comes after the special counsel announced a separate set of indictments on Friday against 13 Russian nationals and three Russian nationals on charges of interfering with the 2016 election. Mueller, who is investigating possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russia, indicated in Friday’s indictments that Russian operatives sought to use social media to help Trump’s campaign bid against Hillary Clinton, but the charges did not implicate any Trump aides.

Meanwhile, Trump, in a series of Tuesday morning tweets that came before van der Zwaan’s indictment continued to take aim at the Russia probe and criticism that he hasn’t responded forcefully enough to the allegations of Russian election meddling.

Trump tweeted that he has been “much tougher on Russia” than his predecessor President Barack Obama, even as lawmakers on both sides of the aisle continue to press Trump to enforce tougher sanctions against Russia that were overwhelmingly approved by Congress last year.

“I have been much tougher on Russia than Obama, just look at the facts. Total Fake News!” Trump tweeted as part of a series of tweets aimed at the probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

The Obama administration, in response to Russia’s alleged election meddling, expelled 35 Russian diplomats, shut down two Russian diplomatic compounds, in the U.S., including one in Upper Brookville, and issued sanctions to four Russian nationals and five Russian agencies accused of cyberhacking and meddling in the elections.

The Trump administration, to the consternation of lawmakers on Capitol Hill, said last month it would not enforce new sanctions against Russia outlined in a measure that was approved by Congress with rare overwhelming bipartisan support. A State Department spokeswoman last month said the sanctions “are deterring Russian defense sales.”

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, speaking at Tuesday’s press briefing, defended the president’s response to Russia amid the allegations of electoral interference, saying, “The president has been extremely tough on Russia. He helped push through $700 billion to rebuild our military. I can assure you Russia is not excited about that.”

Trump, on Tuesday, continued to take aim at Obama and Democrats, saying they only became concerned with the allegations of Russian interference in the presidential election until after his victory against Clinton.

The president tweeted out a quote from Obama, given at a news conference before the election, in which Obama stated: “There is no serious person out there who would suggest somehow that you could even rig America’s elections, there’s no evidence that that has happened in the past or that it will happen this time.”

“The President Obama quote just before election. That’s because he thought Crooked Hillary was going to win and he didn’t want to ‘rock the boat,’ ” Trump wrote in a follow-up post. “When I easily won the Electoral College, the whole game changed and the Russian excuse became the narrative of the Dems.”

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