A witness cooperating with special counsel Robert Mueller has revealed that a meeting just before President Donald Trump’s inauguration in the Seychelles was intended to set up a backchannel between his administration and Russia — contrary to testimony given to congressional investigators.
The Washington Post reported Wednesday that businessman George Nader told Mueller’s team the January 2017 meeting he attended on the Indian ocean island between a Russian official and Erik Prince, the founder of weapons manufacturer Blackwater, was meant to establish unofficial communications between the two countries. When testifying before the House Intelligence Committee, Prince characterized the meeting as a chance encounter.
Prince has maintained in the press and before lawmakers that the Seychelles meeting between himself and Kirill Dmitriev, a banker with a Russian government-controlled wealth fund, was “an unplanned, unimportant encounter that came about by chance because he happened to be at a luxury hotel in the Indian Ocean island nation with officials from the United Arab Emirates,” the Post noted.
Nader, a Lebanese-American businessman, is an adviser to the United Arab Emirates’ Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, and was at the Seychelles meeting to “represent” the royal. Nader has met repeatedly with Mueller’s investigators, and has been cooperating with them since January after being served with a subpoena by the FBI in Washington, D.C.’s Dulles Airport. The special counsel is reportedly investigating whether Nader funneled money from the UAE to Trump’s campaign.
The Post‘s report also noted that Nader attended a December 2016 meeting between senior Trump officials and bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, and according to the New York Times made “frequent visits” to the White House in the early months of the Trump administration to meet with senior advisers Jared Kushner and Steve Bannon to discuss Persian Gulf diplomacy.
Last May, the Post reported that Kushner also sought a Russian backchannel during the Trump transition — a move commentators noted he likely didn’t make on his own.