As the Russia collusion scandal continues to unfold, things are not looking up for President Donald Trump’s camp.
Special counsel Robert Mueller has alleged in a court filing Tuesday that Rick Gates, a very close associate of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, was aware that the two men were working with a former Russian intelligence officer during the 2016 election cycle, Newsweek reports.
The FBI found that the ex-officer still had ties to Russian intelligence in 2016 and worked with Gates and Manafort in September and October of that year. However, it’s unclear whether the men knew he still had his Russian intelligence connections at the time.
Mueller’s investigation team revealed the news in a sentencing document against lawyer Alex van der Zwaan who pleaded guilty back in February to lying to investigators amid the ongoing Russia probe.
Last November, van der Zwaan “deliberately and repeatedly lied” to Mueller’s investigators about his correspondence with Gates, according to Tuesday’s filing. He did so even after he was “expressly warned by the government that it is a crime to lie to the Special Counsel’s Office.”
One of van der Zwaan’s alleged lies was about the ex-Russian military intelligence directorate (GRU) agent who was only identified as “Person A.” He worked in Ukraine for Manafort’s company, Davis Manafort International, contributing to its lobbying work for the government. He also resided in Kiev and Moscow until August 2016.
The new revelation about Gates came when van der Zwaan told Mueller’s team that “Gates told him Person A was a former Russian Intelligence Officer with the GRU.”
The filing accuses van der Zwaan of being dishonest about “his communications with Gates, his communications with a Ukrainian business associate of Manafort and Gates [Person A], and his failure to produce an email between himself and the Ukrainian business associate — all important matters in the investigation.” Additionally, it accuses him of purposely destroying documents.
Gates has already been in the hot seat prior to this new development. In February, he pleaded guilty to fraud and lying to investigators. However, Mueller dropped about two dozen fraud charges against him after he agreed to cooperate with the special counsel’s investigation. Gates and Manafort were first indicted last October on charges alleging that they laundered $30 million.
Mueller caught a big fish, so to speak, by getting Gates to work with his investigation as one Republican consultant reportedly told Politico he “saw everything” inside the Trump campaign. In fact, the consultant said that Gates was among the “top five” who could be of help to Mueller.
As for van der Zwaan, his lawyer filed a 30-page sentencing memorandum on Tuesday asking the judge for leniency and requesting no jail time when he’s sentenced on April 3.
The document states that if he’s behind bars, he will miss the birth of his first child in London (although he should have thought about that before lying to investigators) and asks that he be required to pay an “appropriate fine.” If he is sentenced to serve time, he could face up to six months in jail.
Mueller’s filing doesn’t make a recommendation on how van der Zwaan should be sentenced, but it asserts that he is a trained, experienced lawyer who repeatedly aimed to deceive the investigators.
While the investigation is far from over and there is still much to unearth, one thing we know for sure is that several of Trump's closest cronies have had very direct connections and communication with Russian officials, and that fact, alone, is enough to prompt deep concerns over how much information may or may not have been exchanged with the Russian government.