It is a match made in hell: An ultra-conservative Christianist entrepreneur and Donald Trump fanatic who specializes in death and destruction and the autocratic leader of America’s greatest adversary, who is no stranger to death and destruction himself, and has played the president like a cheap violin while sabotaging the Hillary Clinton campaign and promoting Russia’s global ambitions.
Erik Prince and Vladimir Putin.
Prince was the founder of Blackwater Worldwide, which earned a reputation for being the most draconian of military contractors in the Bush-Cheney-Rumself era whose highly-paid mercenaries had an unparalleled reputation for violence, most infamously an unprovoked massacre in Baghdad in 2007 that left 17 Iraqi civilians dead. Putin, of course, needs no introduction.
In the latest twist to the Russia scandal, which has been sucking in people at a prodigious rate in the two weeks since FBI Director James Comey blew it wide open, The Washington Post reported on Monday that Prince, as an emissary for Trump, met secretly with a man close to Putin in the Seychelles islands in the Indian Ocean nine days before Trump’s inauguration in an apparent effort to establish a back-channel line of communication between Moscow and the president-elect.
The Post said the primary purpose of the meeting was to explore whether Russia would curtail — if not sever outright — its ties with Iran, an unattainable Trump administration fantasy that would require major concessions to Moscow on the U.S. sanctions imposed after Russia invaded Ukraine and annexed Crimea in 2014 and strengthened last December after the full extent of Putin’s meddling in the presidential election became known.
The meeting, brokered by the United Arab Emirates through Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, has been under investigation as part of the FBI’s broader probe of Russian interference in the election and innumerable contacts between associates of Trump and Putin. The Russian emissary, who is believed to be a businessman, has not been identified.
The Seychelles meeting took place after discussions in New York in December held under high security between high-ranking representatives of Trump and the Emirates. The Emirates broke protocol by not informing the Obama administration that the Crown Prince was coming to the U.S., but officials noticed his name on a flight manifest. The Trump representatives included Michael Flynn, Jared Kushner and Steven Bannon.
Flynn was fired as Trump’s national security adviser after being caught lying about a meeting he and Kushner had with Russian U.S. ambassador Sergey Kislyak about the time the Seychelles gambit was germinating. Kushner is Trump’s son-in-law and an increasingly powerful figure in the White House. Bannon is Trump’s chief strategist and senior counselor and a longtime friend of Prince, who is the brother of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and moved to the Emirates in 2010 amidst mounting legal problems because of his mercenaries’ thuggery.
Prince has remained active in the lucrative global mercenary industry and reportedly was paid $529 million to help bring in foreign fighters to assemble an internal Emirates paramilitary force capable of carrying out secret operations and protecting Emirati installations from terrorist attacks.
He refrained from playing a direct role in the Trump transition but was considered to be an important adviser whose extremist opinions were valued, while his businesses have become safe harbors for right wingers even too extreme for Trump. These include Joseph E. Schmitz, the son of a notorious Republican congressman who was one of candidate Trump’s original five foreign policy advisers but was shown the door because of his overt anti-Semitism. Schmitz also had gotten fired from the Pentagon, but was hired by Prince as an executive at Blackwater.
Prince contributed $250,000 to the Trump campaign and in the days before the election appeared on Bannon’s right-wing radio program claiming that the New York City Police Department was preparing to make arrests in the investigation of former congressman Anthony Weiner over allegations he exchanged sexually explicit text messages with a minor. He asserted without evidence that damaging material recovered from Weiner’s computers would implicate Hillary Clinton and her close adviser, Huma Abedin, who was married to Weiner and Prince called “an agent of influence sympathetic to the Muslim Brotherhood.”
Flynn later tweeted a Breitbart News report on Prince’s allegations, while FBI Director Comey infamously threw the Clinton campaign into turmoil — and perhaps the presidency to Trump — when he went public 10 days before the election concerning the Weiner emails, which turned out to be duplicates of Clinton emails the FBI had examined earlier in the year in a previous investigation and semi-exoneration of Clinton. Flynn, who is deeply ensnared in the scandal, has offered to tell the Senate Intelligence Committee and Justice Department what he knows about Trump-Russia connections in return for being given immunity from prosecution.
NBC News also reported on the Seychelles meeting, but said one of its sources said the meeting covered Yemen, Syria and Iraq, in addition to Iran.
Prince denies that there was a meeting, while Trump press secretary Sean Spicer said that the White House was unaware of any meetings. Emirates spokesmen equivocated, some denying the reports and others simply offering no comment.
The Seychelles are such a popular destination for wealthy Russians that many signs are in cyrillic. A top Seychellois official gave it away to The Post when asked whether there was a meeting: “The Seychelles is the kind of place where you can have a good time away from the eyes of the media. That’s even printed in our tourism marketing. But I guess this time you smelled something.”
As in previous scandal developments, The Post and NBC News stories betray an arrogance on the part of Trump’s associates and an obsession with secrecy that would not be necessary if they had nothing to hide and their motives were above board, which is to say in the best interests of America and not its most formidable foe.
Digging an ever deeper hole as the scandal stays in the headlines, Trump himself continues to assert that the Russia scandal is “fake news” and a “witch hunt,” and took time out on Monday from praising Egypt’s authoritarian leader to unleash another phantasmagorical tweet storm against Barack Obama and again air ancient campaign grievances against Hillary Clinton.
Is there no relief for the Trump weary?
No, and not even Susan Rice will fit the bill. Rice, who as Obama’s national security adviser, in 2016 requested the “unmasking” of certain Americans who had been picked up in the surveillance of foreign intelligence targets. Some of those people turned out to be Trump associates, so the right-wing media is claiming that the Obama administration was “spying” on Trump and his campaign, an allegation that smacks of desperation.
Meanwhile, the Russia-Iran strategic partnership that the Trump administration seeks to undermine is a result of the power vacuum left in the Middle East following the disastrous Iraq War. By aligning itself with the Iran-led Shia axis in the region and increasing military cooperation with the Teheran regime, Moscow hopes to fill that vacuum, regain its global power status and enhance its bargaining position with the West in negotiating the relaxation of U.S. sanctions.
While the Russian-Iran partnership is shaky, it is highly unlikely that Putin would throw away years of cultivating the leaders of Iran to appease Trump and Republican conservatives.
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