The Russia investigation inched closer to President Trump this week, when The New York Times reported that a representative from his 2016 campaign had a secret meeting in the Seychelles with a Russian investor connected to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The information came to special counsel Robert Mueller via an adviser to the crown prince of the United Arab Emirates, George Nader, who attended the meeting. He is now cooperating with the investigation and has testified before a grand jury, the Times said on Tuesday.
Why is the Seychelles meeting bad?
When could a business meeting on a tropical island in the Indian Ocean possibly be a bad thing? When it might be evidence that a foreign power interfered in the U.S. election, with the Trump campaign's cooperation, funneling money from foreign countries into a presidential campaign. All of the above are illegal.
If evidence of Trump-Russian collusion emerges from the meeting, it would rebut more than a year of denials from the Trump administration, making it difficult if not impossible for even the president's staunchest Republican supporters to argue that his presidency should continue.
The Trump representative who attended the meeting was Blackwater founder Erik Prince, who served as an informal adviser to the Trump campaign, the Times reports, citing three sources. (Trump named Prince’s sister, Betsy DeVos, to be Secretary of Education.) Representing Vladimir Putin was Kirill Dmitriev, manager of a Russian fund that was sanctioned by the U.S. in 2015. Emirati officials believed Prince was officially speaking for the Trump transition team.
Mueller is investigating what occurred at the meeting, and if money from the Emirates or Russia made its way into the Trump presidential effort. "Mr. Nader’s cooperation in the special counsel’s investigation could prompt new legal risks for the Trump administration, and Mr. Nader’s presence at the Seychelles meeting appears to connect him to the primary focus of Mr. Mueller’s investigation: examining Russian interference during the 2016 presidential campaign," says the "Times."
The meeting was known to American intelligence last year, but it mystified them until Nader provided the details. During testimony before Congress last fall, Erik Prince denied representing the Trump transition team. He said his interaction with Dmitirev was just a casual hang over a drink. Representatives for Nader, Dmitriev and the Emirati ambassador haven't commented.