Russia

Brian Benczkowski Confirmed to Lead the Justice Department’s Criminal Division

The Senate on Wednesday voted 51 to 48 to confirm President Trump’s nominee Brian Benczkowski to lead the Justice Department’s criminal division, amidst the objection of Democrats who expressed concern regarding his representation of a Russian bank and lack of prosecutorial experience, reports The Washington Post. Benczkowski once represented Alfa Bank — a Russian firm that was referenced in a dossier containing allegations about Trump, his advisers and their possible Russian connections — at the request of a partner in his firm, Kirkland & Ellis. Benczkowski told lawmakers he would recuse himself from any matters involving the bank for two years and would permanently step aside from any matters that touched on his work for the institution.

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Former Skadden Associate Charged in Russia Probe Seeks Leniency

Alex van der Zwaan, the former Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom associate who pleaded guilty to lying in the Russia investigation earlier this year, told a Washington, D.C., judge that his cooperation and remorse justify a non-jail sentence, reports The National Law Journal.

Van der Zwan’s lawyer, Cooley partner William Schwartz, wrote in a sentencing memo to U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson that the 33-year-old’s career is ruined, and that he has “been serving a sentence while stuck in limbo” in the United States. The memo states that while it did not excuse his conduct, van der Zwaan lied to investigators in a Nov. 3, 2017, meeting because he feared for his career, as Skadden lawyers represented him at that time.

“During the interview, Alex was keenly aware that he was not speaking only to the OSC,” the document said. “Alex was represented by Skadden lawyers, and anything he shared with the OSC would simultaneously be heard by Skadden. In his mind, his boss was listening to every word.” The memorandum continues: “Focused on preserving his career at Skadden, and fearful that truthful answers could lead to discovery of the recordings (and in particular, the discovery that he had recorded a Skadden partner), Alex made a terrible decision… The conduct that brings Alex before this court was inexcusable… And while his actions following his initial meeting with the OSC cannot absolve him from culpability, they are compelling mitigating factors in considering just punishment.”

In their own memo, lawyers for Mueller told the judge she should not rule out prison time, because of a “scarcity of mitigating factors and several aggravating circumstances.” They said van der Zwaan “is a person to whom every advantage in life has been given,” and that the government rightly expected “candor and uprightness” from him. “While 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,” prosecutors wrote.

The filing also included pleas for a lenient sentencing from van der Zwaan’s wife, the daughter of a Russian oligarch who is expecting a baby in August, and his mother, whom the filing said he helps with errands and household tasks. Van der Zwaan faces up to six months in prison.

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