Day 75: Trump-Russia back-channel communications headed by shadowy figure in secret location

Yesterday, The Washington Post broke a story involving one of Donald Trump’s secret meetings used to communicate with Moscow.

The Post reported that prior to Trump’s January inauguration, a secret meeting was brokered in the Seychelles by the U.A.E. The meeting was headed by controversial defense contracting company Blackwater founder Erik Prince on behalf of the Trump team and a Russian close to Russian President Vladimir Putin. (Prince is the brother to Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, whose nomination process was fraught with bipartisan allegations of DeVos’ incompetence and confusion as to how and why she was chosen.)

Prince was a big supporter of Trump behind the scenes, pouring money into his campaign directly, through the RNC and a super PAC. While Prince wasn’t given an official role within Trump’s inner circle, likely due to his ties to Blackwater, he was very involved on a wide range of issues behind the scenes.

Those at the meetings in the Seychelles were under the impression Prince was speaking on behalf of Trump, according to reports. Despite U.S., European and Arab officials providing information regarding the arrangement, the White House has denied any knowledge of these meetings. The White House denials fly in the face of reports indicating that the FBI is scrutinizing the gathering.

The question comes back to why the meeting existed, much less so secretly.

There are a few options, as the Post notes, including that the U.A.E. may be trying drive a wedge between Russia and Iran. The idea would be to use U.S. sanctions on Russia, or the easing thereof, as leverage to reduce the closeness of the relationship between Russia and Iran.

However, if that was the only case, it seems odd that such a policy-centric meeting would be best carried out by someone who started a private defense company and is still in that business realm just days before the inauguration.

Such a discussion also seems like a far too simplistic reason to arrange secret meetings of this caliber. The U.S. and U.A.E. enjoy diplomatic and economic relations, though they certainly don’t rise to the level of the U.S. engaging in ramping up or easing sanctions on Russia as a favor to the Middle East nation.

The Trump team was carrying on meetings with Russian officials secretly within the U.S. as well as openly in Trump Tower. Why this meeting would take place in a location known for its privacy between unofficial team members and individuals close to Putin is the question that everyone has, including the FBI. These types of conversations could have been handled through official means less than two weeks later, but they weren’t.

Secret communications and deals between administrations are par for the course. But this one involves an especially high layer of intrigue considering it occurred prior to inauguration, who the attendees were, the location, the timing and the topics allegedly discussed.

Overall, this story has a bit of everything that seems common in Trump stories: Russia, shadowy figures, cronyism, secrecy, White House denials and the lack of clear answers.

75 days in, 1387 to go

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