Unspooling like a sedate Mission Impossible sequel, this week the Trump Tower scandal rolled back to January 2017 and splashed down in the Indian Ocean. Doors opened and closed at a beachside hotel in the Seychelles islands where a furtive meeting of a Lebanese-American fixer who specializes in the Middle East, an American mercenary leader, and a Russian moneyman with a Harvard MBA went down. According to Google Maps, it’s a 19-hour, 8,641-mile flight from the special counsel Robert S. Muller III’s office in Washington, D.C.’s southwest quadrant to the tiny island nation. That the meeting has drawn scrutiny shows a willingness on Mueller’s part to extend his reach to places and time periods that the original directive for his probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential campaign only hint at. Think of him as a non-super version of Marvel’s Mr. Fantastic, awesomely powerful, wildly elastic.
According to a New York Times report, the fixer of the Seychelle’s assignation, George Nader, convened the meeting at the behest of United Arab Emirates Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan. The mercenary, Erik Prince of Blackwater fame, is believed to have been Donald Trump’s proxy. And the Russian, Kirill Dmitriev, is thought to have stood in for Vladimir Putin. Now, before you drop the needle onto your vinyl copy of Lalo Schifrin’s “Mission Impossible Theme,” keep in mind that Nader once worked for Erik Prince (brother of Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos) and would later befriend Trump White House advisers. Got your headphones on? Cue the track and continue reading.
What was the Seychelles meeting about? I’m relieved to say that it was mercilessly free of motorcycle chases, men clinging to the outside of airborne planes, fireball explosions, or the other clichés of a Mission Impossible scenario. According to Prince, this scene was a chance encounter that led to a drink. Everybody just happened to be in the Seychelles! It was like bumping into a colleague in Central Park and making a new friend! But a Mueller witness—one who conforms to a description of Nader, who is now cooperating with the special counsel—says the meeting was scheduled in advance so that a Trump proxy could meet a Putin proxy and establish a secret back-channel to steer relations between the two countries.
According to the New York Times, Mueller and company have asked Nader if the Emiratis purchased influence from Trump during the campaign with cash. That would violate campaign finance laws. “The focus on Mr. Nader could also prompt an examination of how money from multiple countries has flowed through and influenced Washington during the Trump era,” the newspaper continues.
Mueller’s all-seeing ways must unnerve Trump associates. This week, the Wall Street Journal reported on the bank that notified authorities of the “suspicious” nature of Michael Cohen’s wire transfer of $130,000 to adult film actor Stormy Daniels. That payment may have broken campaign finance laws. Was Mueller behind its discovery? The Journal implied as much with this sentence: “It is unclear whether Mr. Mueller’s office triggered the bank inquiry in this case.”
The Seychelles meeting invites further inspection of Nader, who seems to possess a backstory that merits a spin-off from the Trump Tower scandal universe with his own starring role. In 1985, he was indicted on obscenity charges but beat the rap. Soon after that, he met with Iran’s supreme religious leader Ayatollah Khomeini, leaders of the Afghan mujaheddin, and a ranking member of Hezbollah. He even worked as the editor of Middle East Insight. In recent years Nader, however, has grown clubby with the Trumpies. According to news accounts, Nader attended a December 2016 meeting in Trump Tower with Al-Nahyan and Trump advisers. The coziness extended to several visits to the White House early in the administration’s early days, as Nader met with first-son-in-law Jared Kushner and former chief strategist Steve Bannon.
As if a reminder were needed, the Nader story points us back to the Trump Tower scandal’s origins, awash as it is with sessions between Trumpies and Russkies that raise suspicions as thick as ticks on a coon dog. Kushner had a met with Russian Ambassador Sergey I. Kislyak in Trump Tower just after the election to explore a back-channel arrangement. Days later, Kushner huddled with a Russian banker affiliated with Putin to discuss yet another back-channel—this one with Putin. You recall, of course, that Michael Flynn, Trump’s original national security adviser, lied about his own secretive talks with the Russian ambassador, and those conversations truncated his tenure in that post. The New York Times reported this week that Dmitriev, the Russian from the Seychelles rendezvous, met with Trump associate Anthony Scaramucci at the 2017 Davos forum, after which Scaramucci criticized the Obama administration sanctions on Russia with a TASS reporter.
And while we’re loitering in the Trump Tower, let’s mention the news broken this week in an excerpt from Russian Roulette, David Corn and Michael Isikoff’s book on the scandal. Emin Agalarov (son to Russian oligarch Aras Agalarov) and Rob Goldstone (go-between for the Russians-pushing-Hillary Clinton “dirt” meeting in Trump Tower, a meeting Bannon called “treasonous”) met with Donald Trump in his Trump Tower office in January 2015. The future president was listening to an insulting rap video about himself. “Have you listened to the words?” Goldstone asked. “Who cares about the words?” Trump responded. “It has 90 million hits on YouTube.”
By Friday, intermittent Trump poltical aide Sam Nunberg had sung for Mueller’s grand jury despite the defiant noise he spewed during his pub crawl from cable show to cable show. According to the Washington Post, Nunberg happened to be laboring for the big man in Trump Tower around the time Emin and Ron paid the visit that Corn and Isikoff document. I wonder if Sam bumped into Emin and Ron. I also wonder if they, like so many, have come to think of the garish building as a crime scene.
Google Maps provides no driving directions to the Seychelles. Call an Uber for me and send it to Shafer.Politico@gmail.com at 1000 Wilson Blvd, Arlington, Va. My email alerts kayak, my Twitter feed paddleboards, but my RSS feed swims.