Erik Prince—the founder of the mercenary company Blackwater—met with an ally of Russian leader Vladimir Putin on Donald Trump’s behalf in January, the Washington Post reports. Per the Post’s sources, the meeting took place in the Seychelles—an Indian Ocean island chain—and was brokered by Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, the crown prince of the United Arab Emirates. The Post says the meeting constituted an unsuccessful effort on the part of Team Trump and the UAE to begin to convince Russia to back away diplomatically from Iran, its longtime ally and a UAE nemesis.
While the Post says the FBI has investigated the meeting as part of its wider inquiry into Trump-Russia connections, it doesn’t seem like this particular story constitutes evidence that Trump collaborated insidiously with the Russian government. Back-channel meetings between unofficial envoys are common in the diplomatic world, and this one doesn’t appear to have involved any unusual or inappropriate offers being made to Russia on Trump’s behalf. The story is evidence, though, of Trump pursuing a far-fetched national security goal—Iran has had a very close relationship with Russia for decades—via a dubious messenger. Blackwater is infamous for having perpetrated the massacre of 17 people in Baghdad in 2007, an incident which led to the conviction of four of its employees on murder and manslaughter charges in U.S. court. (Prince no longer has any connections to the company, which is now known as Academi.)
The Intercept reported in January that Prince, whose sister Betsy DeVos is Trump’s secretary of education, was advising Trump’s transition team “on matters related to intelligence and defense.”