Is Blackwater founder Erik Prince secretly doing outreach for the Trump administration? According to a Washington Post report that an administration official calls "ridiculous," Prince met a Russian official close to Vladimir Putin in the Seychelles days before Trump took office in an effort to set up a back-channel line of communication between Moscow and Washington. The Post's sources say officials in the United Arab Emirates, where Prince has been based since 2010, set up the meeting in an effort to persuade Russia to stop supporting Iran, a goal that the Trump administration also supports. A Prince spokesman says the "meeting had nothing to do with President Trump."
Prince, who now heads a private equity firm, never had an official role in the Trump transition team, though he was a major campaign donor, has ties to Steve Bannon, and is the brother of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. A US intelligence official tells NBC News that according to intelligence reports filed after the Jan. 11 meeting, there's no sign Trump aides were directly involved. The Post's sources say the meeting, which is looked at by the FBI as part of its investigation of alleged Trump links to Russia, was set up after Emirati officials met with Trump aides in New York. Abu Dhabi's crown prince, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, was approached by Prince, who said he was an authorized surrogate for Trump, the sources say. (Read more Erik Prince stories.)