Blackwater founder Erik Prince represented then President-elect Donald Trump in January during a secret meeting overseas with a Russian emissary close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, the Washington Post and NBC News reported on Monday.
Prince, whose sister Betsy DeVos is secretary of education in President Donald Trump’s administration, met with a Russian close to Putin in the Seychelles Islands around Jan. 11, according to both reports. The Washington Post reported that Prince “presented himself as an unofficial envoy for Trump.”
Per both reports, the United Arab Emirates arranged the meeting. The Washington Post cited unnamed U.S., European and Arab officials, and NBC News cited two unnamed intelligence sources familiar with the matter.
The Washington Post first reported:
Though the full agenda remains unclear, the UAE agreed to broker the meeting in part to explore whether Russia could be persuaded to curtail its relationship with Iran, including in Syria, a Trump administration objective that would be likely to require major concessions to Moscow on U.S. sanctions.
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, according to the officials, who did not identify the Russian.
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.
U.S. officials said the FBI has been scrutinizing the Seychelles meeting as part of a broader probe of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election and alleged contacts between associates of Putin and Trump. The FBI declined to comment.
The Seychelles encounter, which one official said spanned two days, adds to an expanding web of connections between Russia and Americans with ties to Trump — contacts that the White House has been reluctant to acknowledge or explain until they have been exposed by news organizations.