A new report asserts that Blackwater founder Erik Prince met with an unnamed associate of Russian President Vladimir Putin on Jan. 11 in an effort to create back-channel communication between then President-elect Donald Trump and Putin.
U.S., European and Arab officials told The Washington Post that the United Arab Emirates set up the secret meeting with the Putin confidant in the Seychelles islands in the Indian Ocean.
Unidentified officials told the newspaper that Prince presented himself to high-ranking UAE officials as an unofficial envoy for Trump. Prince's sister is Betsy DeVos, who was Trump's pick to head the Department of Education.
Prince gave $250,000 to the Trump campaign, the Republican Party and a pro-Trump super PAC that was headed Rebekah Mercer, the daughter of billionaire Trump supporter Robert Mercer.
According to unidentified U.S. officials, the FBI has been investigating Prince's meeting with the Putin associate as part of a larger investigation into Russia's interference in the 2016 presidential election.
The FBI would not comment to The Washington Post.
Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, stated: "We are not aware of any meetings, and Erik Prince had no role in the transition."
A spokesman for Prince issued a similar statement:
Erik had no role on the transition team. This is a complete fabrication. The meeting had nothing to do with President Trump. Why is the so-called under-resourced intelligence community messing around with surveillance of American citizens when they should be hunting terrorists?
The meeting in the Seychelles reportedly happened after some private talks between senior representatives of team Trump, Russia and the UAE.
According to unidentified U.S., European and Arab officials, Michael Flynn, Trump’s former-national security adviser, Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner and Stephen Bannon, CEO of Trump's campaign, met with Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, in December 2016.
After that meeting, the crown prince and his brother, the UAE's national security adviser, reportedly set up the Seychelles meeting with Prince and the Russian government because the crown prince wanted Russia to cut its ties with Iran, which is considered an enemy of the UAE.
Federal investigators and the media were keeping a close watch on official communications between Trump's team and Russia in January, which may explain the reported secret meeting between Prince and Putin's associate.
In more Trump-Russia news, Carter Page, a former Trump campaign adviser, met with a Russian intelligence operative, Victor Podobnyy, in New York City in 2013 and gave Podobnyy some documents, notes BuzzFeed News.
The U.S. government charged Podobnyy as well as Igor Sporyshev and Evgeny Buryakov for working as unregistered agents of a foreign government in January 2015.
Part of a U.S. government court filing in the case included a transcript of a conversation between Podobnyy and Sporyshev about trying to recruit someone named "Male-1."
Page confirmed to BuzzFeed News that he is "Male-1" on April 3.
Page said he did have contact with Podobnyy, but did not give him any sensitive information. The meeting took place more than three years before Page joined the Trump team.
The U.S. government court filing said that from January to June 2013, Page met, emailed and "provided documents to [Podobnyy] about the energy business."