Another day, another indictment as Mueller takes yet another careful step in gathering evidence in the investigation regarding collusion between Trump and Russia. Today’s star guest is Alex van der Zwaan, a little-known lawyer working for Paul Manafort charged with lying to the FBI.
The indictment states that Van der Zwaan made false statements regarding work that he did in Ukraine and failed to produce an email exchange in 2014, addressed to an unidentified individual known as Person A. The charges indicate that prosecutors also have evidence of an incriminating phone call between Van der Zwaan and Person A. The former began work in Ukraine on behalf of his company, Skadden Arps through 2012 which also has connections to Manafort and his deputy Rick Gates who were organising lobbying efforts later on. Van der Zwaan would later work on a report for Gates and Manafort regarding a target of their lobbying efforts, a report which is now under scrutiny from Mueller.
Van der Zwaan is also well-connected which might prove unfortunate for him. He is currently married to the daughter of German Khan, a Russian-Ukrainian billionaire who has indirect links to the allegations of collusion between Russia and the Trump team. Khan is one of three people who sued Buzzfeed News for publishing the infamous Steel dossier on the ground of defamation. However, there is no evidence suggesting that van der Zwaan is being charged because of his family ties although they will doubtlessly be examined closely.
Van der Zwaan is hailed as a victory for the investigation team after he pleaded guilty later this afternoon to the charges against him. It may seem strange though, a departure from some of the more high-profile figures involved. Van der Zwaan has no personal connection to President Trump and while he is connected to Manafort and Gates, it seems a little out of place for Mueller to go after such an obscure character. It begs the question of how such a minor figure fits into the wider question of Russian collusion.
But the new development is still a victory in that Mueller’s team has another guilty plea, but more importantly, it shows the vast scope of the investigation. Taking in the big fish and indicting Russian citizens is one thing, but Van der Zwaan’s indictment shows that the investigation has a long reach. In many ways, serving an indictment to a small-time lawyer sends out the message that Mueller’s team is willing to prosecute any individual who lies or omits the truth. After all, the whole Russia-Trump inquiry is a criminal investigation first and foremost.
Alex van der Zwaan may not have the star power of Michael Flynn, but taking him in shows that Mueller is examining this case from every angle and that his team will go through every line of inquiry. In fact, the testimony of van der Zwaan may not bring down the Trump administration, but it will shed more light on just how deep the rabbit hole goes when it comes to Russia and Donald Trump. It also puts more pressure on Manafort and Gates to cooperate while sending a warning to those waiting for the ax to fall. The message is clear: if you think you can escape the truth, you are wrong.
Alex van der Zwaan may be a small fish in a big pond, but he serves as a reminder that no one can escape the truth. Anyone who thinks they can lie to the FBI and get away with it is fooling themselves, something Trump would do well to consider if he agrees to be interviewed by Mueller.