Special counsel Robert Mueller found evidence a secret 2017 meeting in Seychelles was designed to create a back channel for President Donald Trump’s administration to talk to the Kremlin, according to The Washington Post Wednesday.
A witness, who has been cooperating with Mueller, told investigators the meeting was set up before the inauguration so someone from Trump’s transition team could meet with a Moscow emissary, WaPo’s report notes, which relies solely on unnamed sources.
Erik Prince, founder of the private security firm Blackwater, met with a Russian official close to Russian President Vladimir Putin in Jan. 2017 to set up a channel so the Trump administration could discuss future relations between the two countries. The meeting was a chance encounter not a planned discussion, Prince later described to congressional investigators.
The meeting with Kirill Dmitriev, the head of a Russian government-controlled wealth fund, was an unimportant encounter that happened while he was meeting with officials from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Prince said to legislators. The UAE officials suggested he visit the hotel bar and meet Dmitriev, Prince told the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence in 2017.
“At the end, one of the entourage says, ‘Hey, by the way, there’s this Russian guy [who] we’ve dealt with in the past. He’s here also to see someone from the Emirati delegation. And you should meet him, he’d be an interesting guy for you to know, since you’re doing a lot in the oil and gas and mineral space,'” he said at the time.
Prince denied WaPo’s reporting in 2017 that showed U.S. and European officials describing the Seychelles meeting as part of an effort to establish a back-channel line of communication between Moscow and the incoming administration. WaPo’s reporting at the time also relied on anonymous sources — the legacy outlet has frequently used such journalistic techniques while reporting on the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.
Prince, for his part, criticized the Obama administration late 2017 for unmasking him while surveilling several people who met with foreign officials.
He called on Attorney General Jeff Sessions to launch a formal investigation into the Obama administration’s incidental surveillance of Americans who met with foreign officials during the presidential campaign. Prince told The Daily Caller News Foundation in October 2017 Sessions should launch a probe into his case, where Obama administration officials leaked what he called false information to the news media.
Obama’s National Security Adviser Susan Rice explained during a Sept. 2017 House Intelligence Committee interview why she unmasked Prince and members of Trump’s transition team.
Rice sought the names of senior Trump officials in order to find out why Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, the crown prince of the UAE, decided to visit New York late 2017, she told the committee in a closed-door interview, according to a CNN report at the time.
A Mueller spokesman declined to comment Wednesday night about the validity of WaPo’s report, and a Prince spokesman referred WaPo reporters to his previous statements to the committee.
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