If you thought it was going to be one of Trump's former associates like Paul Manafort or Rick Gates, then you thought wrong. Robert Mueller's investigation into Russia's influence in the 2016 election has led to its first sentencing, and the man in question is Dutch lawyer Alex van der Zwaan.
Van der Zwaan has been sentenced to 30 days in in prison after it was revealed that he had lied to investigators about his contacts with Gates, who is a business associate of Manafort's and a former Trump campaign official. Together, Manafort and Gates were indicted on 12 charges, including money laundering and conspiracy against the U.S. Van der Zwaan, on the other hand, had no ties to the Trump campaign, and instead was only connected to Gates — but after lying to federal investigators about his last contact with Gates and then being found out, he eventually pleaded guilty.
As it turns out, in addition to van der Zwaan's prison sentence, he is being fined $20,000 and most likely will be deported back to London. Raw Story reported that van der Zwaan's team requested a lenient jail term, as his wife is reportedly having a difficult pregnancy and van der Zwaan wanted to be back in the United Kingdom with her as quickly as possible.
Van der Zwaan faced up to six months in prison, so the request for a lenient sentence may have actually achieved something, although U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson, who presided over the case, was unwilling to let van der Zwaan off with just the fines that his attorneys were asking for.
“What I did was wrong,” van der Zwaan said at his sentencing. “I apologize to my wife and to my family.”
For people who have been following the Trump-Russia scandal, van der Zwaan's family is actually a point of interest, although it didn't come into play in the charges facing him. He is married to the daughter of German Khan, one of the richest oligarchs in Russia.
Despite that, however, van der Zwaan's indictment was actually unconnected to the Trump-Russia scandal. He had worked with Manafort and Gates as part of their work with a Ukrainian political party, and then when federal investigators for Mueller's team were gathering information about Gates and Manafort, van der Zwaan lied about the most recent contacts he had had with Gates. Lying to the FBI is still a federal crime, whether or not the subject is directly related to the investigation in question.
While Trump has expressed multiple times that he expects the Mueller probe to wrap up in short order, there's actually far more evidence to suggest that Mueller could have a ways to go. So far, three indictments and several other guilty pleas have come out of the Mueller investigation, including the guilty pleas from former Trump national security advisor Michael Flynn and former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopolous. Investigators often use offers of plea deals as tools to draw more information out of witnesses, and so far it's unknown what information Flynn and Papadopolous have provided, and about whom.
Another avenue that Mueller is known to be pursuing is the Trump Organization's business dealings with Russia, as the New York Times reported in mid-March that Mueller had subpoenaed documents related to that theme. That move brought the probe a step closer to Trump himself, and it may have angered the president. According to an interview he gave to the New York Times in July of 2017, Trump said that in Mueller began investigating his business, that would be crossing a line. So far, however, he has not publicly reacted as though Mueller had indeed crossed a line.
Alex van der Zwaan is very much removed from the Trump campaign, so it's a surprise that he would receive the first prison sentence in the investigation. However, it seems unlikely that he will be the last.