- Special counsel Robert Mueller has reportedly determined that a meeting in the Seychelles between associates of President Donald Trump and a Russian banker was meant to help establish a secret back-channel between Trump and Russia.
- This stands in contrast to the testimony one of the meeting’s participants gave Congress last year.
- Another of the participants is reportedly cooperating with Mueller’s probe.
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Special counsel Robert Mueller has reportedly gathered enough evidence to conclude that the January 2017 meeting between an associate of President Donald Trump, a Russian banker, and a representative of the United Arab Emirates in the Seychelles was conducted in order to set up a back channel for communication between the incoming Trump administration and Russia, The Washington Post reported.
The meeting has attracted significant attention since news broke that Lebanese-American businessman George Nader, who acted as an adviser and representative of Emirati Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan at the meeting, has been cooperating with Mueller’s office since January of this year, according to The New York Times. It is unclear how much Nader has contributed to Mueller’s information gathering.
But the conclusion Mueller, who is investigating Russian election interference, has reportedly reached stands in stark contrast to the dismissive description that one of the participants, private security entrepreneur Erik Prince, gave the House Intelligence Committee during his testimony in November.
What Prince told investigators
Prince, who founded the private security company Blackwater, arrived in the Seychelles in order to meet with Crown Prince Mohammed and other Emirati officials, according to The Times, although it is unclear what the meeting was about. Prince has deep connections to the UAE, and had been contracted by them to created a private army for the Crown Prince.
According to Prince’s testimony last year, the officials at this first meeting suggested that Prince meet with Russian banker Kirill Dmitriev – who manages a state-run fund in Russia and is close to Russian President Vladimir Putin – at the bar of the local Four Season hotel.
Prince said it was a casual meeting that lasted no more than 30 minutes.
“We chatted on topics ranging from oil and commodity prices to how much his country wished for resumption of normal trade relations,” Prince told the House Intelligence Committee. “I remember telling him that if Franklin Roosevelt could work with Joseph Stalin to defeat Nazi fascism, then certainly Donald Trump could work with Vladimir Putin to defeat Islamic fascism.”
Prince denied that he was acting as a representative of Trump, who would be inaugurated as president days after the meeting. Prince had acted as an informal adviser to Trump’s transition team, The Times reported.
How Mueller’s findings contradict Prince’s narrative
Based on information it has gathered, Mueller’s office claimed that the meeting between Prince and Dmitriev had in fact been premeditated, and was meant to coordinate an eventual meeting between a representative of Trump’s transition team and a Russia emissary.
Nader attended the meeting as well, and had helped organise it. Nader has long been an adviser to the UAE and had connections to several Trump associates. According to The Post, Emirati officials were indeed under the impression that Prince was representing Trump at the meeting.
Nader also had long-time connections to Prince, and he reportedly introduced the security entrepreneur to Dmitriev.
If confirmed, the nature of the Seychelles meeting would not be the first time the White House has allegedly tried to establish a back-channel with Russia. In December 2016, White House senior adviser and Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner met with then-Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak to talk about setting up an unofficial communication channel, The Times reported last year. Former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI last year and is cooperating with the Mueller probe, was reportedly also at the meeting.
The Seychelles meeting took place after this initial encounter.
Mueller’s team is reportedly in the process of looking into Trump’s foreign business contacts and has asked Nader about the possibility that the UAE funneled money to Trump’s campaign. Such foreign donations to the campaign, if uncovered, would be illegal.