We’ve all figured out how this works now. Because Donald Trump was tweeting hysterical accusations about Obama administration officials ‘unmasking’ his associates this morning, there was broad speculation that he was distracting from a bombshell due to hit the news cycle later today.
And just like clockwork, this afternoon the Washington Post published a sensational story that Erik Prince, the founder of infamous mercenary outfit Blackwater, met with a Russian representative close to Vladimir Putin in the Seychelle Islands during January.
Prince was an avid supporter of Trump. After the Republican convention, he contributed $250,000 to Trump’s campaign, the national party and a pro-Trump super PAC led by GOP mega-donor Rebekah Mercer, records show. He has ties to people in Trump’s circle, including Stephen K. Bannon, now serving as the president’s chief strategist and senior counselor. Prince’s sister Betsy DeVos serves as education secretary in the Trump administration. And Prince was seen in the Trump transition offices in New York in December.
The United Arab Emirates reportedly facilitated the meeting, which has come under FBI scrutiny, in hopes that it would help split Russia from their regional enemy Iran.
“Though Prince had no formal role with the Trump campaign or transition team, he presented himself as an unofficial envoy for Trump to high-ranking Emiratis involved in setting up his meeting with the Putin confidant,” the Washington Post reports.
NBC News has independently confirmed the gist of the story, including the role of the Emirates and the focus of the meeting. The name of Prince’s Russian counterpart remains secret for now.
Asked about the matter, UAE Ambassador to the U.S. Yousef al Otaiba told NBC News, “No comment.” Pressed on whether he could provide any context on any basis, he said, “Not on this one.”
But the secretive liaison fits the pattern of meetings between high-level Trump allies and agents of Russian influence.
During December, Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and national security adviser designee Michael Flynn had a public meeting with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak, and Kushner later met in secret with a Kremlin spy-turned-banker.
White House strategist Steve Bannon has been friends with Prince for years. He apparently played a major role in all this skulduggery, according to the Post.
Flynn and Kushner were joined by Bannon for a separate meeting with the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, who made an undisclosed visit to New York later in December, according to the U.S., European and Arab officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive matters.
In an unusual breach of protocol, the UAE did not notify the Obama administration in advance of the visit, though officials found out because Zayed’s name appeared on a flight manifest.
Zayed has met with Putin more than once. He and his brother, the national security adviser for the UAE, “coordinated the Seychelles meeting with Russian government officials with the goal of establishing an unofficial back channel between Trump and Putin.”
Erik Prince was forced to sell his Blackwater company after it became known for trigger-happy employees who murdered random Iraqis. But he donated $250,000 to the Trump campaign and its associated super PAC during 2016. The Post spoke to “current and former U.S. officials” who described him playing an important, though unofficial, role in the transition — including discussions of how to “overhaul” American intelligence agencies.
No doubt that sort of talk is music to Putin’s ears.
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