Back in mid-January, nine days before the inauguration of, then, President-elect Donald Trump, a couple men got together for a meeting in the Seychelles Island, located in the Indian Ocean right next to Africa and just below West Asia. It was unclear what the intentions of the meeting were or what the contents were. What is becoming clearer now, though, is the implications.
What was done and said at this gathering could have tremendous impact on the future of U.S. democracy. And why is this? Well, let’s look at who was in attendance.
A Russian official close to Vladimir Putin was there, representing Russian interests, and so was Erik Prince, founder of much-maligned military contractor Blackwater, possibly representing Trump’s interests. The broker of this January 11 get-together was the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed al-Nahyan.
Whether or not Prince actually has ties to Trump is unclear. The Trump team vigorously denies this, with press secretary Sean Spicer saying, “Erik had no role in the transition team, this is a complete fabrication.”
But despite this denial, Prince donated $250,000 to Trump’s campaign, was seen in the Trump transition offices in New York in December, has presented himself as an unofficial Trump envoy, and has close ties to advisor Steve Bannon. He also happens to be the brother of Betsy Devos, Trump’s Education Secretary.
If all that isn’t enough, The Intercept reported before the inauguration that Prince had been advising the team on such matters as who Trump’s cabinet picks should be and how the incoming President should handle ISIS. This has led many to believe that Prince has all along been a shadow advisor to Trump.
What is also peculiar about this meeting is that it came shortly after Zayed met both with Trump’s son-in-law and advisor, Jared Kushner, and top consultant Stephen Bannon. Also present at the meeting was former National Security advisor Michael Flynn – who ultimately was forced to step down because of a secret meeting with the Russian ambassador prior to the inauguration. Flynn is currently seeking immunity in exchange for testifying in court. In 2016, Zayed also met twice with Putin.
Zayed visited the U.S. for this meeting without notifying President Barack Obama, an unprecedented move based on international protocol, and a seemingly clear indication he was attempting to keep the meeting secret. U.S. officials only learned of Zayed’s visit when his name turned up on a flight manifest.
The FBI now is apparently investigating this meeting as a part of its greater probe into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
Officials say that the United Arab Emirates (UAE) organized the Seychelles meeting, along with the Russian government, to set up an unofficial back channel for Trump and Putin to communicate. Some feel as though the UAE organized the meeting to work with both leaders in severing the relationship between Russia and Iran, which is a leading enemy of the UAE.
Given all of this information, it remains unclear what occurred in the Seychelles. However, the meeting appears to be yet another string in the web of Russian/Trump connections. Trump’s closest advisors – Flynn, Kushner, Bannon, and Jeff Sessions – had certainly been meeting with Russian officials prior to the inauguration. And Prince, though it is unclear how much involvement he had, appears to have had at least some ties to Trump and also met with the Russian government.
What happened at this Seychelles meeting could reveal a lot of things about Russian involvement in the election, and whether Trump has financial ties to Russian oligarchs and business leaders. If he cut some sort of financial deal to help his election chances, this could be Watergate times ten – it would amount to high treason and would signal weakness in our democratic process.
Another emerging factor that could reveal even more than the Seychelles meeting is communication between a Trump computer server and a Russian Bank.
The FBI is investigating a Trump sever located in Lititz, PA, which has been communicating almost entirely with Alfa Bank, an influential financial institution run by Russian oligarchs. Eighty percent of all attempts to look up the server – 2,820 in total – came from Alfa Bank. This makes a Trump/Russian business connection seem all the more likely. And the other 20 percent of lookups could be even more damning.
These come from Spectrum Health, a medical facility chain run by Dick Devos, husband of Trump’s Secretary of Education, and the brother-in-law to the aforementioned Prince.
Alfa Bank refutes the seriousness of all this, claiming these attempted contacts were likely the result of a spam campaign. But Paul Vixie, designer of the DNS system that was used for the lookups, said the explanation is that they “were communicating in a secretive fashion.”
Cyber security expert Robert Graham has been quoted as saying, “it’s indicative of communication between Trump, the health organization, and the bank outside these servers. There is some sort of connection I can’t explain, and only they are doing it. It could be completely innocent.”
It could be … or it could indicate a connection between Trump, Russia, and the wealthy Devos family. Only time, and the results of careful investigations, will tell.
Between the Seychelles meeting, the mysterious Trump server communications, and the various pre-inauguration secret meetings, it’s difficult to believe that something wasn’t going on. It’s just unclear, for now, what that was. With its apparent inability to stay independent, Congress doesn’t seem to be the appropriate agent of discovery for this matter. Actually, we may need nothing short of exceptional, Woodward and Bernstein-style journalism to expose what went on.
The answer though, almost certainly lies in the content of the Seychelles meeting, and of those puzzling communications between Alfa Bank, Spectrum, and Trump. It’s an answer all Americans need to know.