The Mueller report sheds further light on the infamous Seychelles meeting in January, 2017, which appears to have aimed at establishing a back channel for the Trump administration to the circle of Russian President Vladimir Putin, brokered by Mohammed Bin Zayed of the United Arab Emirates. That is, this story is not about pre-election collusion but about some sort of post-election plot between the Trump circle and that of Putin. What exactly these secretive contacts were about is still murky, but there was no reason for the contacts to be so secretive unless something shady was going on.
It could be that Trump, Kushner, Bannon, Broidy and others just wanted to find a way to make money off the Russians in return for softening sanctions. Again, the Seychelles Plot was not about getting into power but what to do with that power now that Trump had been elected.
It is more clear what the international actors wanted. We know that the Russians wanted an acceptance in Washington of their annexation of Crimea and an end to Magnitsky sanctions on businesses and businessmen in Putin’s circle. It is not clear exactly what Bin Zayed and the UAE wanted out of this triangle, but it is possible that Bin Zayed was angling to fulfill ambitions to become a hegemonic regional power in the Middle East. Both he and Putin wanted to destroy the Muslim Religious Right in the area, with Putin concentrating on Syria and Bin Zayed on Egypt and Yemen.
Here is my account, pieced together from newspaper articles (with gratitude to the reporters who did the research):
Mueller says that after Trump was elected, Putin pushed Kirill Dimitriev, head of a major Russian investment bank, RDIF, to get meetings with Jared Kushner and Donald Trump Jr. as soon as possible. Dimitriev used for the purpose of reaching out the well-connected George Nader, a Lebanese influence peddler then advising the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, who was in New York that November. Mueller reports that when Dimitriev discovered that Trump was victorious, he had remarked, “Putin has won.”
Jared Kushner had according to press reports also told the Russians in fall 2016 he wanted to set up back channel to them.
According to George Nader, Seychelles meeting was to set back channel. It was arranged by Mohammed Bin Zayed of Abu Dhabi.
Participants in the Jan. 11 meeting in the Seychelles included Erik Prince, the founder of Blackwater (now Academi). Prince was a Navy Seal, and later a businessman and private security contractor. He specializes in the provision of mercenaries and is part of the Trump circle. He donated $250,000 to Trump’s campaign in 2016, and his sister, Betsy DeVos, is Trump’s Secretary of Education.
After Blackwater was expelled from Iraq by parliament for committing a massacre, Prince was hired by Mohammed bin Zayed, crown prince of Abu Dhabi. He moved to the United Arab Emirates in 2010. There he assembled 800-member mercenary force for internal security, for hundreds of millions of dollars. Erik Prince advised the UAE on new company, Reflex Responses (R2), the troops of which were in part recruited from a South African mercenary firm.
Max Kuttner at Newsweek explained that George Nader was brought up in Lebanon and came to US as a teen in 1970s. He learned English and emerged as editor of Middle East Insight, becoming known in policy circles. It has been alleged that although he is Lebanese, he hired a deputy editor for Middle East Insight who was supplied by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). In 1990, Nader served 6 months in DC for possession of child pornography, but somehow this stint behind bars was covered up and he continued as editor. He is said to have attempted to become a go-between between Israelis, Lebanese and Syrians.
Then around 2000, Nader disappeared from the Washington, DC scene. He emerged in the Czech Republic in 2002, having been convicted on 10 counts of molesting boys, for which he served one year in prison.
He then showed up in the United Arab Emirates as an adviser Mohammed Bin Zayed.
He also served in the 2000s by Erik Prince as a consultant to Blackwater in Iraq and so is a key link between Prince and Bin Zayed.
As an adviser to Bin Zayed, Nader introduced the crown prince to Eliot Broidy, a security consultant and later Vice chair of Republican National Committee. Broidy brokered a $200 million weapons deal to the United Arab Emirates.
Broidy was accused in 2014 of dealings with a Russian bank under sanctions
He shared a personal attorney with Donald J. Trump, Michael Cohen, who specialized in silencing women involved in pornography with whom they had affairs.
The Russian connection at Seychelles:
Kirill Dmitriev manages the Russian Direct Investment Fund, a $10 billion Russian government-established sovereign wealth fund. RDIF is under US sanctions Dmitriev’s wife, Natalia Popova, was a university classmate of Katerina Tikhonova (Vladimir Putin’s daughter). Tikhonova runs the Innopraktika fund, a $1.7 billion development project to create a science center at Moscow State University. She is married to banker Kirill Shamalov and the couple is worth $2 billion. Katerina and her husband separated in January 2018
Kirill Dimitriev’s wife Popova works as Putin daughter Tikhonova’s deputy at the Innopraktika fund. Dmitriev himself serves on the board of Innopraktika
Bin Zayed has strong connections to Putin and Dmitriev, and the three have met in Moscow. Bin Zayed directs Abu Dhabi’s sovereign investment fund, Mubadala, which has a $2 billion joint fund with RDIF. The two invest together in e.g. Russian helicopters
Prince testified to Congress that when he happened to be in the Seychelles on a business trip, he ran into UAE officials in Sychelles who told him, ‘Oh, there’s this Russian guy that’s also here to see us. Might be useful for you to meet him.’ Prince said he only met Dmitriev for half an hour over drinks to discuss “trade matters” and “terrorism.”
This account is contradicted by Nader, who speaks of a bigger meeting for political influence
The Intercept reported,
- “Shortly after President Donald Trump was inaugurated last year, top Republican fundraiser Elliott Broidy offered Russian gas giant Novatek a $26 million lobbying plan aimed at removing the company from a U.S. sanctions list.”
Nader had introduced bin Zayed to Elliott Broidy. Broidy’s security company later signed contracts with the United Arab Emirates.
In October 2016, Broidy provided Nader with a memorandum about a sit-down he had with Trump where they discussed Trump’s possibly meeting privately with bin Zayed.
In Dec. 2016 soon after Trump’s election, Mohammed bin Zayed snuck into the US without telling the Obama administration. He met at Trump Tower with Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, chief strategist Steve Bannon, and Michael Flynn (later briefly national security adviser). Kushner is alleged to have sought back channel to Russians.
The Mueller report reveals that Kislyak was not close to Putin and probably could not get messages to him directly, so that some closer back channel was desirable.
The Russians clearly wanted Trump to sideline sanctions. Trump and Jared wanted a more intimate line Putin than was available through Kislyak. But what did they want from the Russians?
The Trump circle also seems to have been convinced that the UAE was the way to get to Putin.
So this is what the Mueller report says about all this:
- “Kirill Dmitriev [is] a Russian national who heads Russia’s sovereign wealth fund and is closely connected to Putin. Dmitriev undertook efforts to meet members of the incoming Trump Administration in the months after the election. Dmitriev asked a close business associate who worked for the United Arab Emirates (UAE) royal court, George Nader, to introduce him to Trump transition officials, and Nader eventually arranged a meeting in the Seychelles between Dmitriev and Erik Prince, a Trump Campaign supporter and an associate of Steve Bannon.
In addition, the UAE national security advisor introduced Dmitriev to a hedge fund manager and friend of Jared Kushner, Rick Gerson, in late November 2016. In December 2016 and January 2017, Dmitriev and Gerson worked on a proposal for reconciliation between the United States and Russia, which Dmitriev implied he cleared through Putin. Gerson provided that proposal to Kushner before the inauguration, and Kushner later gave copies to Bannon and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
Dmitriev is a Russian national who was appointed CEO of Russia ‘s sovereign wealth fund, the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), when it was founded in 2011. 990 Dmitriev reported directly to Putin and frequently referred to Putin as his “boss.” RDIF has co-invested in various projects w ith UAE sovereign wealth funds.
Dmitriev regularly interacted with Nader, a senior advisor to UAE Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed. Nader provided information to the Office in multiple interviews , all but one of which were conducted under a proffer agreement. The investigators also interviewed Prince under a proffer agreement. Bannon was interviewed by the Office, under a proffer agreement.
Putin wanted Dmitriev to be in charge of both the financial and the political relationship between Russia and the Gulf states, in part because Dmitriev had been educated in the West and spoke English fluently. Nader considered Dmitriev to be Putin’s interlocutor in the Gulf region, and would relay Dmitriev’s views directly to Crown Prince Mohammed. Nader developed contacts with both U.S presidential campaigns during the 2016 election, and kept Dmitriev abreast of his efforts to do so. According to Nader, Dmitriev said that his and the government of Russia’s preference was for candidate Trump to win and asked Nader to assist him in meeting members of the Trump Campaign.”
So here is what is new in the Mueller report that I did not know from the press reporting:
1. I did not fully realize that Dimitriev and Bin Zayed had a close pre-existing relationship, and this Moscow-Abu Dhabi axis appears to have been made a basis for jointly reaching out to the Trump administration high officials.
2. I did not know Dimitriev had told Nader he wanted Trump to win.
3. I did not know about the Dimitriev-Gerson relationship or the plan that the two of them worked on for closer US-Russian relations, which they gave in January of 2017 before the inauguration to Kushner, who shared it with Tillerson and Bannon.
- “Nader traveled to New York in early January 2017 and had lunchtime and dinner meetings with Erik Prince· on January 3, 2017. Nader and Prince discussed Dmitriev . 1035 Nader informed Prince that the Russians were looking to build a link with the incoming Trump Administration. He told Prince that Dmitriev had been pushing Nader to e · omin Administration. Nader suggested, in light of Prince’s relationship with the Transition Team officials, that Prince and Dmitriev meet to discuss issues of mutual concern. Prince told Nader that he needed to think further about it and to check with Transition Team officials.”
So this cover story that the meeting in the Seychelles two weeks later was just by happenstance is complete bull hockey.
- “Prince booked a ticket to the Seychelles on January 7, 2017. 1050 The following day, Nader wrote to Dmitriev that he had a “pleasant surprise” for him, namely that he had arranged for Dmitriev to meet “a Special Guest” from “the New Team,” referring to Prince. 105 1 Nader asked Dmitriev if he could come to the Seychelles for the meeting on January 12 , 2017, and Dmitriev agreed.”
The first meeting in the Seychelles lasted about 45 minutes. There was a second brief consultation where Prince said he was alarmed at news that Russia might intervene in Libya, and that Libya was off the table.
The Mueller report continues:
- “After the brief second meeting concluded, Nader and Dmitriev discussed what had transpired. Dmitriev told Nader that he was disappointed in his meetings with Prince for two reasons: first, he believed the Russians needed to be communicating with someone who had more authority within the incoming Administration than Prince had. Second, he had hoped to have a discussion of greater substance, such as outlining a strategic roadmap for both countries to follow. Dmitriev told Nader that Prince’s comments were insulting. Hours after the second meeting , Prince sent two text messages to Bannon from the Seychelles. As described further below, investigators were unable to obtain the content of these or other messages between Prince and Bannon, and the investigation also did not identify evidence of any further communication between Prince and Dmitriev after their meetings in the Seychelles.”
Prince says he debriefed Bannon on his return, but that Bannon proved uninterested and told him to discontinue the contact with Dimitriev. Bannon in contrast maintains that there was no such conversation. Phone company records show that Bannon and Prince texted each other numerous times in this period, but the messages themselves appear to have been deleted from their phones.
So what principals told Mueller makes it sound as though the Seychelles meeting was a dead end. However, that is simply their assertion, and they appear to have gotten rid of any evidence to the contrary.
Dimitriev’s annoyance with messing around with a relatively low-level guy like Prince is explained by the fact that he already had a better contact, Gerson, who might be more persuasive with key players like Kushner and Don Jr.
- “On January 16, 2017, Dmitriev consolidated the ideas for U.S.-Russia reconciliation that he and Gerson had been discussing into a two-page document that listed five main points: (1) jointly fighting terrorism; (2) jointly engaging in anti-weapons of mass destruction efforts; (3) developing “win-win” economic and investment initiatives; (4) maintaining an honest , open, and continual dialogue regarding issues of disagreement ; and (5) ensuring proper communication and trust by “key people ” from each country. On January 18, 2017, Gerson gave a copy of the document to Kushner. Kushner had not heard of Dmitriev at that time. 1113 Gerson explained that Dmitriev was the head of RDIF, and Gerson may have alluded to Dmitriev’s being well connected. Kushner placed the document in a file and said he would get it to the right people. Kushner ultimately gave one copy of the document to Bannon and another to Rex Tillerson; according to Kushner, neither of them followed up with Kushner about it. On January 19 , 2017 , Dmitriev sent Nader a copy of the two -page document, telling him that this was “a view from our side that I discussed in my meeting on the islands and with you and with our friends. Please share with them – we believe this is a good foundation to start from. ”
Mueller reports that Dimitriev ended up being frustrated that there was no forward movement on his two-page memo.
This story makes no sense. Kushner and others had wanted a more intimate contact with Putin, and Dimitriev was obviously close to him in a way that Kislyak was not. So they had two breakthroughs in making direct contact with Dimitriev, one via the Seychelles and one via Gerson, and they are alleged to have thrown both of them away.
That the Trump-Russia new relationship had some importance is clear. For instance, Trump removed sanctions from Russia’s Rusal aluminum corporation, and it promptly invested $200 million in an aluminum plant in Kentucky, to help Mitch McConnell get reelected.
Moreover, that the Seychelles cast of characters were not a one-off and that these links continued to be in play is easy to demonstrate.
The June 5, 2017, plot to blockade and isolate Qatar has the same cast of characters as the Seychelles meeting: Mohammed bin Zayed, Elliot Broidy (who funded anti-Qatar propaganda), Jared Kushner, Donald Trump.
I think this plot against Qatar was essentially a bank robbery, and I suspect everyone involved believed they would get a cut of Qatar’s $400 bn sovereign wealth fund if the Al Thani dynasty could be overthrown and Qatar could be annexed by Saudi Arabia or the UAE. There was probably a bone saw involved somewhere.
By this time, the Russia piece seems to have dropped out of this Middle East development. It may be that Bin Zayed tried to make himself indispensable to the Trump circles by introducing them to Dimitriev, who has a direct line to Putin, and then used his position as a broker to draw Kushner and Trump into support for the overthrow of Qatar.
This story of influence-peddling still does not have an ending because we aren’t entirely sure about the motives of the major players, and much documentation appears to have disappeared. My own guess is that the Trump officials were mainly interested in whether they could somehow make a boatload of money by taking sanctions off key Russian concerns. It would, in any case, be safe enough to suggest that we should keep following the money.