INVESTIGATION INTO RUSSIAN CONNECTIONS IS LONG OVERDUE
(House of Representatives - April 03, 2017)

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[Pages H2619-H2620]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]




         INVESTIGATION INTO RUSSIAN CONNECTIONS IS LONG OVERDUE

  (Ms. KAPTUR asked and was given permission to address the House for 1 
minute and to revise and extend her remarks.)
  Ms. KAPTUR. Mr. Speaker, today The Washington Post reported that the 
United Arab Emirates arranged a secret meeting in January between 
Blackwater founder and major Trump contributor Erik Prince and a 
Russian close to President Vladimir Putin. The meeting was an apparent 
effort to establish a back-channel line of communication between Moscow 
and President-elect Donald Trump, according to U.S., European, and Arab 
officials.
  Erik Prince, by the way, is the brother to Betsy DeVos, the Secretary 
of Education. The UAE's incentive to broker this meeting comes from the 
deteriorating relationship between them and Iran. They wanted to drive 
a wedge between Russia, Iran, and Syria. Agreement on that deal would 
need a handsome reward, like the easing of U.S. sanctions on the 
Russian Federation for its invasion of Ukraine.
  Blackwater is the private security firm that became infamous for U.S. 
abuses in Iraq after a series of incidents, including one in 2007 in 
which the company's guards were charged and criminally convicted of 
killing civilians.
  ``Officials said Zayed and his brother, the UAE's national security 
adviser, coordinated the Seychelles meeting with Russian Government 
officials with the goal of establishing an unofficial back channel 
between Trump and Putin.'' The UAE at one point paid Erik Prince's firm 
a reported half a billion dollars to consult on defensive security.
  An independent bipartisan commission to investigate Trump officials 
and Russian connections is long overdue.

                [From the Washington Post, Apr. 3, 2017]

 Blackwater Founder Held Secret Seychelles Meeting to Establish Trump-
                           Putin Back Channel

      (By Adam Entous, Greg Miller, Kevin Sieff and Karen DeYoung)

       The United Arab Emirates arranged a secret meeting in 
     January between Blackwater founder Erik Prince and a Russian 
     close to President Vladimir Putin as part of an apparent 
     effort to establish a back-channel line of communication 
     between Moscow and President-elect Donald Trump, according to 
     U.S., European and Arab officials.
       The meeting took place around Jan. 11--nine days before 
     Trump's inauguration--in the Seychelles islands in the Indian 
     Ocean, officials said. Though the full agenda remains 
     unclear, the UAE agreed to broker the meeting in part to 
     explore whether Russia could be persuaded to curtail its 
     relationship with Iran, including in Syria, a Trump 
     administration objective that would likely require major 
     concessions to Moscow on U.S. sanctions.
       Though Prince had no formal role with the Trump campaign or 
     transition team, he presented himself as an unofficial envoy 
     for Trump to high-ranking Emiratis involved in setting up his 
     meeting with the Putin confidant, according to the officials, 
     who did not identify the Russian.
       Prince was an avid supporter of Trump who gave $250,000 
     last year to support the GOP nominee's campaign, records 
     show. He has ties to people in Trump's circle, including 
     Stephen K. Bannon, now serving as the president's chief 
     strategist and senior counselor. Prince's sister Betsy DeVos 
     serves as education secretary in the Trump administration. 
     And Prince was seen in the Trump transition offices in New 
     York in December.
       U.S. officials said the FBI has been scrutinizing the 
     Seychelles meeting as part of a broader probe of Russian 
     interference in the 2016 U.S. election and alleged contacts 
     between associates of Putin and Trump. The FBI declined to 
     comment.
       The Seychelles encounter, which one official said spanned 
     two days, adds to an expanding web of connections between 
     Russia and Americans with ties to Trump--contacts that the 
     White House has been reluctant to acknowledge or explain 
     until they have been exposed by news organizations.
       ``We are not aware of any meetings and Erik Prince had no 
     role in the transition,'' said Sean Spicer, the White House 
     press secretary.
       ``Erik had no role on the transition team. This is a 
     complete fabrication,'' said a spokesman for Prince in a 
     statement. ``The meeting had nothing to do with President 
     Trump. Why is the so-called underresourced intelligence 
     community messing around with surveillance of American 
     citizens when they should be hunting terrorists?''
       Prince is best known as the founder of Blackwater, a 
     security firm that became a symbol of U.S. abuses in Iraq 
     after a series of incidents including one in 2007 in which 
     the company's guards were accused--and later criminally 
     convicted--of killing civilians in a crowded Iraqi square. 
     Prince sold the firm, which was subsequently rebranded, but 
     has continued building a private paramilitary empire with 
     contracts across the Middle East and Asia.
       Prince would probably have been seen as too controversial 
     to serve in any official capacity in the Trump transition or 
     administration. But his ties to Trump advisers, experience 
     with clandestine work and relationship with the royal leaders 
     of the Emirates--where he moved in 2010 amid mounting legal 
     problems for his American business--would have positioned him 
     as an ideal go-between.
       The Seychelles meeting came after private discussions in 
     New York involving high-ranking representatives of Trump, 
     Moscow and the Emirates.
       The White House has acknowledged that Michael T. Flynn, 
     Trump's original national security adviser, and Trump adviser 
     and son-in-law Jared Kushner met with the Russian ambassador 
     to the United States, Sergey Kislyak, in late November or 
     early December in New York.
       Flynn and Kushner were joined by Bannon for a separate 
     meeting with the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohamed 
     bin Zayed al-Nahyan, who made an undisclosed visit to New 
     York later in December, according to the U.S., European and 
     Arab officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to 
     discuss sensitive matters.
       In an unusual breach of protocol, the UAE did not notify 
     the Obama administration in advance of the visit, though 
     officials found out because Zayed's name appeared on a flight 
     manifest.
       Officials said Zayed and his brother, the UAE's national 
     security adviser, coordinated the Seychelles meeting with 
     Russian government officials with the goal of establishing an 
     unofficial back channel between Trump and Putin.
       Officials said Zayed wanted to be helpful to both leaders 
     who had talked about working more closely together, a policy 
     objective long advocated by the crown prince. The UAE, which 
     sees Iran as one of its main enemies, also shared the Trump 
     team's interest in finding ways to drive a wedge between 
     Moscow and Tehran.
       Zayed met twice with Putin in 2016, according to Western 
     officials, and urged the Russian leader to work more closely 
     with the Emirates and Saudi Arabia--an effort to isolate 
     Iran.
       At the time of the Seychelles meeting and for weeks 
     afterward, the UAE believed that Prince had the blessing of 
     the new administration to act as its unofficial 
     representative. The Russian participant was a person whom 
     Zayed knew was close to Putin from his interactions with both 
     men, the officials said.
       When the Seychelles meeting took place, official contacts 
     between members of the incoming Trump administration and the 
     Russian government were under intense scrutiny, both from 
     federal investigators and the press.
       Less than a week before the Seychelles meeting, U.S. 
     intelligence agencies released a report accusing Russia of 
     intervening clandestinely during the 2016 election to help 
     Trump win the White House.
       The FBI was already investigating communications between 
     Flynn and Kislyak. The Washington Post's David Ignatius first 
     disclosed those communications on Jan. 12, around the time of 
     the Seychelles meeting. Flynn was subsequently fired by Trump 
     for misleading Vice President Pence and others about his 
     discussions with Kislyak.
       Yousef Al Otaiba, the UAE's ambassador in Washington, 
     declined to comment.
       Government officials in the Seychelles said they were not 
     aware of any meetings between Trump and Putin associates in 
     the country around Jan. 11. But they said luxury resorts on 
     the island are ideal for clandestine gatherings like the one 
     described by the U.S., European and Arab officials.
       ``I wouldn't be surprised at all,'' said Barry Faure, the 
     Seychelles secretary of state for foreign affairs. ``The 
     Seychelles is the kind of place where you can have a good 
     time away from the eyes of the media. That's even

[[Page H2620]]

     printed in our tourism marketing. But I guess this time you 
     smelled something.''
       Trump has dismissed the investigations of Russia's role in 
     the election as ``fake news'' and a ``witch hunt.''
       The level of discretion surrounding the Seychelles meeting 
     seems extraordinary given the frequency with which senior 
     Trump advisers, including Flynn and Kushner, had interacted 
     with Russian officials in the United States, including at the 
     high-profile Trump Tower in New York.
       Steven Simon, a National Security Council senior director 
     for the Middle East and North Africa in the Obama White 
     House, said: ``The idea of using business cutouts, or 
     individuals perceived to be close political leaders, as a 
     tool of diplomacy is as old as the hills. These unofficial 
     channels are desirable precisely because they are deniable; 
     ideas can be tested without the risk of failure.''
       Current and former U.S. officials said that while Prince 
     refrained from playing a direct role in the Trump transition, 
     his name surfaced so frequently in internal discussions that 
     he seemed to function as an outside adviser whose opinoins 
     were valued on a range of issues, including plans for 
     overhauling the U.S. intelligence community.
       He appears to have particularly close ties to Bannon, 
     appearing multiple times as a guest on Bannon's satellite 
     radio program over the past year as well as in articles on 
     the Breitbart Web site that Bannon ran before joining the 
     Trump campaign.
       In a July interview with Bannon, Prince said those seeking 
     forceful U.S. leadership should ``wait till January and hope 
     Mr. Trump is elected.'' And he lashed out at President Barack 
     Obama, saying that because of his policies ``the terrorists, 
     the fascists, are winning.''
       Days before the November election, Prince appeared on 
     Bannon's program again, saying that he had ``well-placed 
     sources'' in the New York City Police Department telling him 
     they were preparing to make arrests in the investigation of 
     former congressman Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) over allegations 
     he exchanged sexually explicit texts with a minor. Flynn 
     tweeted a link to the Breitbart report on the claim. No 
     arrests occurred.
       Prince went on to make a series of unfounded assertions 
     that damaging material recovered from Weiner's computers 
     would implicate Hillary Clinton and her close adviser, Huma 
     Abedin, who was married to Weiner. He also called Abedin an 
     ``agent of influence very sympathetic to the Muslim 
     Brotherhood.''
       Prince and his family were major GOP donors in 2016. After 
     the Republican convention, he contributed $250,000 to Trump's 
     campaign, the national party and a pro-Trump super PAC led by 
     GOP mega-donor Rebekah Mercer. The Center for Responsive 
     Politics reported that the family gave more than $2.7 million 
     to GOP candidates and super PACs, including about $2.7 
     million from his sister, DeVos, and her husband.
       Prince's father, Edgar Prince, built his fortune through an 
     auto-parts company. Betsy married Richard DeVos Jr., heir to 
     the Amway fortune.
       Erik Prince has had lucrative contracts with the UAE 
     government, which at one point paid his firm a reported $529 
     million to help bring in foreign fighters to help assemble an 
     internal paramilitary force capable of carrying out secret 
     operations and protecting Emirati installations from 
     terrorist attacks.
       The Trump administration and the UAE appear to share a 
     similar preoccupation with Iran. Current and former officials 
     said that Trump advisers were focused throughout the 
     transition period on exploring ways to get Moscow to break 
     ranks with Tehran.
       ``Separating Russia from Iran was a common theme,'' said a 
     former intelligence official in the Obama administration who 
     met with Trump transition officials. ``It didn't seem very 
     well thought out. It seemed a little premature. They clearly 
     had a very specific policy position, which I found odd given 
     that they hadn't even taken the reins and explored with 
     experts in the U.S. government the pros and cons of that 
     approach.''
       Michael McFaul, former U.S. ambassador to Russia, said he 
     also had discussions with people close to the Trump 
     administration about the prospects of drawing Russia away 
     from Iran. ``When I would hear this, I would think, `Yeah 
     that's great for you guys, but why would Putin ever do that?' 
     '' McFaul said. ``There is no interest in Russia ever doing 
     that. They have a long relationship with Iran. They're allied 
     with Iran in fighting in Syria. They sell weapons to Iran. 
     Iran is an important strategic partner for Russia in the 
     Middle East.''
       Following the New York meeting between the Emiratis and 
     Trump aides, Zayed was approached by Prince, who said he was 
     authorized to act as an unofficial surrogate for the 
     president-elect, according to the officials. He wanted Zayed 
     to set up a meeting with a Putin associate. Zayed agreed and 
     proposed the Seychelles as the meeting place because of the 
     privacy it would afford both sides. ``He wanted to be 
     helpful,'' one official said of Zayed.
       Wealthy Russians and Emirati royalty have a particularly 
     large footprint on the islands. Signs advertising deep-sea 
     fishing trips are posted in Cyrillic. Russian billionaire 
     Mikhail Prokhorov owns North Island, where Prince William and 
     Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, went on their honeymoon in 
     2011. Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahyan, president of the 
     UAE, built a hilltop palace for himself with views across the 
     chain of islands.
       The Emiratis have given hundreds of millions of dollars to 
     the Seychelles in recent years for causes including public 
     health and affordable housing. But when the Emirati royal 
     family visits, they are rarely seen.
       ``The jeep comes to their private jet on the tarmac and 
     they disappear,'' said one Seychellois official who spoke on 
     the condition of anonymity because he did not want to be seen 
     as criticizing the Emiratis.
       Zayed, the crown prince, owns a share of the Seychelles 
     Four Seasons, a collection of private villas scattered on a 
     lush hillside on the main island's southern shore, 
     overlooking the Indian Ocean, according to officials in the 
     Seychelles. The hotel is tucked away on a private beach, far 
     from the nearest public road.
       Current and former U.S. officials who have worked closely 
     with Zayed, who is often referred to as MBZ, say it would be 
     out of character for him to arrange the Jan. 11 meeting 
     without getting a green light in advance from top aides to 
     Trump and Putin, if not the leaders themselves. ``MBZ is very 
     cautious,'' said an American businessman who knows Zayed. 
     ``There had to be a nod.''
       The Seychelles meeting was deemed productive by the UAE and 
     Russia but the idea of arranging additional meetings between 
     Prince and Putin's associates was dropped, officials said. 
     Even unofficial contacts between Trump and Putin associates 
     had become too politically risky, officials said.
       Sieff reported from the Seychelles. Julie Tate, Devlin 
     Barrett, Matea Gold, Tom Hamburger and Rosalind S. Helderman 
     contributed to this report.

                          ____________________