Blackwater founder Erik Prince met with a Russian close to President Vladimir Putin in a secret meeting arranged by the United Arab Emirates in January as a way to develop a back-channel line of communication between Trump and Moscow.
The secret meeting was revealed by The Washington Post (WaPo), and was confirmed by U.S., European, and Arab officials.
According to WaPo, officials say that the secret meeting took place in the Seychelles islands in the Indian Ocean, nine days before Trump’s inauguration. The UAE agreed to arrange the meeting as a way to influence Russia’s relationship with Iran. These concessions from Russia would require the U.S. to roll back sanctions against Moscow, a goal that Prince and UAE hoped to facilitate.
Prince had no official role with Trump’s transition team, however, he presented himself as an unofficial envoy to the ranking Emirate officials responsible for setting up the secret meeting with the Putin associate. Sources confirmed Prince’s role in the meeting but did not identify the Russian.
Officials say that the FBI has been looking closely at all details of the meeting in the Seychelles as part of their ongoing investigation into the potential collusion between the Putin-ordered Russian cyber-hacks of the 2016 presidential election and the Trump campaign.
One official stated that the secret meetings between Prince and the Putin confidant were held over two days, but the White House is still denying any coordination between Moscow and Trump despite mounting evidence to the contrary. White House press secretary Sean Spicer said:
“We are not aware of any meetings and Erik Prince had no role in the transition.”
According to the officials, the meeting between Prince and Putin’s associate followed a private discussion with high-ranking Trump representatives with Moscow and the UAE. The White House has already acknowledge meetings between Trump son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, as well as disgraced former national security adviser, Gen. Michael Flynn.
Flynn and Kushner also met with the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, along with Trump chief strategist Stephen Bannon, according to the U.S., European, and Arab officials speaking to The Washington Post on condition of anonymity. The meeting went undisclosed; the UAE did not notify the Obama administration prior to the visit in a breach of protocol. The unnamed sources said that they discovered Zayed’s name on the flight manifest.
According to these officials, Zayed and his brother arranged the meeting in the Seychelles islands with the goal of setting up back channel between Trump and Putin. Zayed’s goal was to establish communications with both leaders in the face of Iranian aggression. At the time of the secret meeting, the UAE was led to believe that Prince was approved by the incoming Trump administration to act on its behalf. Zayed had met Putin twice in 2016, and the crown prince was familiar with the Putin confidant from these earlier meetings.
A spokesman for Prince reinforced the Blackwater founder’s lack of any official role in the Trump campaign, saying:
“Erik had no role on the transition team. This is a complete fabrication. The meeting had nothing to do with President Trump. Why is the so-called under-resourced intelligence community messing around with surveillance of American citizens when they should be hunting terrorists?”
Prince was a Trump supporter during the campaign, and contributed $250,000 to the former reality TV star’s presidential bid through his campaign, the Republican Party and a pro-Trump super PAC.
Prince’s sister, Betsy DeVos, serves as Trump’s controversial secretary of education, a position which many characterize as having been “purchased” through multiple donations to senators involved with her confirmation.
Blackwater earned a name in the press as the security firm that gave the U.S. a reputation for abuse and corruption during the war in Iraq. In 2007, Blackwater company security guards were charged and later convicted of murdering civilians in Iraq. Although Prince sold Blackwater, he maintains contracts across the Middle East and Asia, and now heads a Hong Kong company called Frontier Services Group. Prince moved to the UAE in 2010, and maintains close ties with the royal family.
In January, Democracy Now! revealed Prince as a “secret advisor” to Trump in the video below: