On Wednesday evening, The Washington Post reported that special counsel Robert Mueller is zeroing in on Blackwater founder and all-around bad guy Erik Prince. Mueller is apparently particularly interested in a meeting that Prince had with a Kremlin-connected Russian official in the Seychelles during the Trump transition, in which they reportedly discussed setting up a back channel between Trump and Moscow. That Mueller has uncovered evidence of an attempt to set up this back channel also apparently contradicts testimony Prince gave before Congress regarding what he was doing in the Seychelles.
If true, this would be at least the third known attempt to set up a back channel between Trump and Russia. In December of 2016, Jared Kushner, Michael Flynn, and then–Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak secretly met in Trump Tower, and Kushner later testified before Congress that Kislyak had suggested they set up a back channel. Two weeks later, Kushner and Flynn secretly met with Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, the crown prince of the United Arab Emirates, and discussed setting up a back channel between Russia and the United States. Zayed’s office then reportedly set up the meeting between Erik Prince and the Russian official in the Seychelles.
What’s not entirely clear is what the back channel would have been for. Zayed and Kushner reportedly discussed efforts to drive a wedge between Russia and Iran, so Russian foreign policy is a leading contender. But these discussions were happening only a few days before Trump was inaugurated. If the topic of conversation really only centered on foreign policy, that surely could have waited a week and a half. The most innocent explanation here isn’t really that innocent: that the Trump transition was so suspicious of the outgoing Obama administration that it wanted to keep its conversations with Russia secret. But given all of the other smoke surrounding Russia and the Trump campaign, there are many less innocent explanations as well.