Special Counsel Robert Mueller this week was given “total access” to the phone and personal computer of Trump ally Erik Prince, who met with a Russian official in the Seychelles shortly after the 2016 election, ABC News reported Monday.
A spokesperson for Prince, the founder of the private security firm Blackwater who donated $250,000 to President Trump during the 2016 election through his campaign and two super PACs supporting him, confirmed the report in a statement, saying that Prince had “cooperated completely with the Special Counsel’s investigation.”
“As Mr. Prince told the Daily Beast he has spoken voluntarily with Congress and also cooperated completely with the Special Counsel’s investigation, including by providing them total access to his phones and computer,” the spokesperson stated. “Mr. Prince has a lot of opinions about the various investigations, but there is no question that they are important and serious, and so Mr. Prince will keep his opinions to himself for now and to let the investigators do their work.”
The spokesperson added that Prince was “confident” he would be able to “put these distractions to the side” once investigators finished their work.
Prince, who was allegedly attempting to establish a “backchannel” between the Trump White House and the Kremlin, according to U.S. and Arab officials, is under investigation by the special counsel’s office over that meeting, which took place on January 11, 2017, one week prior to Trump’s inauguration. He has been under investigation since March this year, and the Washington Post first reported the meeting in April 2017.
The Blackwater founder has denied that the meeting, reportedly with Kirill Dmitriev, was planned ahead of time. Prince maintains that the meeting was a chance encounter over beers, and that they made no effort to establish a backchannel, as the Post reported. Dmitriev was appointed by Russian President Vladimir Putin to run the country’s $10 billion sovereign wealth fund in December 2013.
Monday’s development complicates things for Trump: in addition to Prince, several other Trump associates have agreed to cooperate with Mueller on the Russia investigation in recent months.
In March, the man allegedly responsible for planning the Seychelles meeting, George Nader, also agreed to cooperate with the special counsel’s office in exchange for partial immunity. According to The New York Times, Nader has numerous ties to Russia, including those within Putin’s inner circle. As Vox notes, Nader met with former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon and current senior adviser Jared Kushner on several occasions after Trump’s inauguration.
Former Trump campaign officials, including Rick Gates, have also agreed to cooperate with Mueller in exchange for lighter sentences. Gates and former campaign chairman Paul Manafort were charged last October on multiple counts, including lying to the FBI, money laundering, and conspiracy against the United States. Gates pleaded guilty to two of the charges against him — conspiracy against the United States and lying to the FBI — in February, promising to cooperate with Mueller on the Russia investigation. Manafort has repeatedly tried to get the charges against himself dropped, to no avail.
George Papadopoulos, a former foreign policy adviser for Trump’s campaign, pleaded guilty last fall to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russian officials.
More recently, Trump’s longtime attorney, Michael Cohen, appeared ready to begin cooperating with federal prosecutors in New York as well. This development would, according to ABC News, “hit the White House, family members, staffers and counsels hard.”
Cohen has long been viewed as Trump’s “fixer” and was named in the now-infamous Steele Dossier, which detailed allegations of misconduct and possible collusion with Russian officials by Trump and several campaign associates. According to the dossier and subsequent reports by McClatchy’s D.C. bureau, Cohen allegedly traveled to Prague ahead of the election to meet with Russian officials and bury any evidence of collusion, allegations which Cohen has vehemently and repeatedly denied.
Cohen was also involved in facilitating hush-money payments to two women — Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal — who said they had sexual relationships with Trump, and were paid to keep quiet about it in the days leading up to the 2016 election.
In April, the FBI, acting on behalf of the U.S. attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York, raided Cohen’s home, office, and hotel room, on a referral from Mueller’s office. Agents were reportedly looking for records and documents related to the two hush-money payments, eventually seizing 3 million files, only a few hundred of which were covered by attorney-client privilege.
On June 13, ABC News reported that Cohen had dropped his legal team and was preparing to cooperate with federal investigators in exchange for leniency.