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Trump Donor’s Meeting With Russian Executive Draws Scrutiny of Special Counsel Mueller

A meeting in the Seychelles weeks before Donald Trump’s inauguration between a Russian executive and a top Republican donor close to the Trump transition team has drawn the scrutiny of special counsel Robert Mueller.


Erik Prince, above, founder of the Blackwater security firm, told the House Intelligence Committee that he had traveled to the Seychelles to meet with the crown prince of the United Arab Emirates and his associates to discuss “potential business in the future.” Photo: Saul Loeb/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

By

Rebecca Ballhaus and

Aruna Viswanatha

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A meeting in the Seychelles weeks before Donald Trump’s inauguration between a Russian executive and a top Republican donor close to the Trump transition team has drawn the scrutiny of special counsel Robert Mueller, who has heard testimony that appears to conflict with an account of the same meeting given earlier to House investigators, according to people familiar with the matter.

Mr. Mueller’s investigators have heard testimony from a witness that the donor, Erik Prince, wasn’t introduced to the Russian by intermediaries from the United Arab Emirates, as he had told the House panel, the people said.

Mr. Prince, founder of the Blackwater security firm, told the House Intelligence Committee in November that he had traveled to the Seychelles to meet with Mohammed bin Zayed, crown prince of the United Arab Emirates, and his associates to discuss “potential business in the future,” according to a public transcript released by the panel, which is investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

During his stay in January 2017, Mr. Prince said he also met with the Russian executive, Kirill Dmitriev. Mr. Prince told lawmakers that the meeting with Mr. Dmitriev was a short, chance encounter at the hotel bar and was arranged by a member of Mr. Zayed’s delegation. Mr. Dmitriev is the chief executive of an investment fund created by the Russian government and is close to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

However, testimony earlier this year from George Nader, an adviser close to UAE’s crown prince who is cooperating with Mr. Mueller’s investigation, has contradicted Mr. Prince’s account, according to the people familiar with the matter.

Mr. Nader told Mr. Mueller’s investigators that he attended Mr. Prince’s meeting with the Emirati delegation and that the Emiratis didn’t make the introduction between Mr. Prince and Mr. Dmitriev, the people said.

Mr. Mueller appears to be investigating whether the meeting was an effort to create a back channel between Russia and the incoming Trump administration, according to one of the people familiar with the matter.

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Mr. Mueller’s inquiry is part of a much broader probe of Russian meddling in the 2016 election and whether there was any collusion between Moscow and the Trump campaign, which Mr. Trump has repeatedly denied, calling the investigation a “witch hunt.” Moscow has denied meddling.

Mr. Nader has been cooperating with Mr. Mueller since January, when investigators stopped him at Dulles Airport and served him with a subpoena, according to one of the people familiar with the matter.

A spokesman for Mr. Prince and a spokesman for the special counsel declined to comment. Mr. Nader couldn’t be reached for comment. The White House didn’t respond to a request for comment.

In the early months of the Trump administration, Mr. Nader visited the White House several times, discussing U.S. foreign policy toward Gulf Arab states with administration officials, including Steve Bannon and Jared Kushner, according to people familiar with the matter.

The Washington Post reported Wednesday that Mr. Mueller has evidence that the Seychelles meeting was an effort to create a back channel between the Trump team and Russia.

At the time of the meeting, Mr. Prince had close ties to the Trump team, which he maintained after Mr. Trump’s inauguration. The brother of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, Mr. Prince held meetings in the Trump transition offices before the inauguration, according to people familiar with the matter.

Mr. Prince contributed more than $280,000 to the Trump campaign, the Republican Party and a pro-Trump super PAC, according to Federal Election Commission records.

Mr. Dmitriev was appointed to his role by Mr. Putin and meets frequently with the Russian president to brief him on the activities of his fund, the Russian Direct Investment Fund, whose parent company was hit by U.S. sanctions.

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Before Mr. Prince’s meeting with Mr. Zayed in the Seychelles, the crown prince had met in December 2016 with top Trump transition officials in New York, according to people familiar with the matter. The Trump officials who attended that meeting included then-incoming national security adviser Mike Flynn, as well as Mr. Kushner and Mr. Bannon, according to the people.

Mr. Nader didn’t attend that three-hour meeting, but greeted Emirati officials as they were departing, according to one of the people familiar with the matter.

Mr. Prince had crossed paths with Mr. Nader years earlier, when he hired Mr. Nader as a business development consultant in Iraq, according to a 2010 deposition by Mr. Prince as part of a lawsuit against his former company, Blackwater.

Mr. Nader remained in close contact with White House allies, receiving updates about activity in the West Wing. Elliott Broidy, a top Republican fundraiser close to the president, sent Mr. Nader a memo last fall summarizing an October meeting he had with the president and other top advisers. The memo was included in a cache of emails from Mr. Broidy’s and his wife’s email accounts provided to the Journal.

In the memo, Mr. Broidy—who serves as national deputy finance chairman at the Republican National Committee—said he told the president that he had met with top Emirati officials, including Mr. Zayed, on behalf of his defense company. The memo also said Mr. Broidy had urged Mr. Trump to support a plan “being constructed” by Mr. Zayed to create a regional counterterrorism task force.

Mr. Broidy described Mr. Trump’s response as “extremely enthusiastic,” and said he urged the president to have a “quiet meeting” with Mr. Zayed in New York or New Jersey.

“President Trump agreed that a meeting with MBZ was a good idea,” Mr. Broidy wrote in the memo.

Write to Rebecca Ballhaus at Rebecca.Ballhaus@wsj.com and Aruna Viswanatha at Aruna.Viswanatha@wsj.com

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