Robert Mueller says he was able to pinpoint security company executive Erik Prince’s precise location for several hours in January 2017 by matching his mobile phone signal to a cell site near Trump Tower in New York City.
The special counsel’s report discloses the use of this investigative technique, by which police determine a suspect’s location via a cellphone’s GPS signal.
The Prince narrative is one instance in unredacted sections of the report in which Mr. Mueller’s team explicitly discloses cellphone tracking. It raises the question of whether the FBI applied the process to other investigative subjects — a phone’s GPS signal can disclose its exact location within a few feet. One of the first requests the FBI makes when confronting subjects is to ask for their electronic devices.
The fact Mr. Mueller could pinpoint Mr. Prince’s exact whereabouts suggest he used GPS readouts, which prosecutors can subpoena from cellular service providers.
“I got the distinct impression that they had all my electronic communications and they operated with a confidence borne of a complete complement of the communications of everyone else,” Michael Caputo, a former Trump campaign adviser, told The Washington Times.
Mr. Caputo has been a vocal critic of the special counsel’s investigation, which in the end found no Trump-Russia conspiracy.
Trump-Russia’s most infamous “whereabouts” question centers on Michael Cohen, a former Trump attorney who is now in prison for tax fraud. The Democratic Party-financed dossier alleged that Cohen participated in election interference by traveling to Prague in August 2016 to meet with operatives of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
He has always denied the assertion as fiction. An examination of Cohen’s cellphone at the time could relay all his locations. Yet no evidence has surfaced to support the dossier’s sensational claim. In fact, no evidence arose to back any of dossier writer Christopher Steele’s conspiracy allegations. The Mueller report states flatly that Cohen didn’t go to Prague. If he had, Mr. Mueller likely would have said there was a conspiracy, not that he couldn’t establish one.
Mr. Prince is a wealthy former Navy SEAL known for founding the private security firm Blackwater USA, which he later sold. His global business empire revolves around private force protection and commando-type training for governments and corporations.
He dabbled in giving Trump campaign advice. After the election, Mr. Prince became a frequent visitor to Trump Tower, where he met principally with adviser Steve Bannon, the Mueller report said.
Mr. Prince emerged as a possible backdoor link to the Kremlin via Kirill Dmitriev, director of Moscow’s sovereign wealth fund and a close associate of Mr. Putin.
The Prince-Dmitriev broker was George Nader, a longtime Washington figure who was an adviser to Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, crown prince of the United Arab Emirates. Mr. Nader is a close associate of Mr. Dmitriev, thus making him a prime Mueller witness.
Mr. Nader, a Lebanese American lobbyist, was arrested this month on charges of possessing sexually explicit videos of boys. A judge ordered him held in a jail in Alexandria, Virginia, pending trial.
The Western-educated, English-speaking Mr. Dmitriev was eager to touch base with the Trump transition to start a dialogue on better U.S.-Russian relations. Mr. Nader tapped Mr. Prince as the unofficial go-between for a meeting in the Seychelles, an archipelago off East Africa known for beaches, resorts and nature preserves. UAE rulers gathered there, presenting business opportunities as well as indirect diplomacy.
Mr. Nader’s proposed trip prompted Mr. Prince to mingle one day at Trump Tower with Kellyanne Conway, Wilbur Ross and Steven T. Mnuchin as he waited to see Mr. Bannon.
Mr. Mueller wanted to document the visit. His appointment order as special counsel said he was to investigate “any links” between a Trump associate and Russians. He nailed down Mr. Prince’s location that day via his cellphone.
“Cell-site location data for Prince’s mobile phone indicates that Prince remained at Trump Tower for approximately three hours,” the report states. “Prince said that he could not recall whether, during those three hours, he met with Bannon and discussed Dmitriev with him.”
The sentence has a footnote that is partially redacted: “Cell-site location data for Prince’s mobile phone” — the next words are censored by the term “investigative technique.”
The Mueller team also knew the contents of postelection text messages sent by Mr. Dmitriev. But prosecutors redacted how they knew. Five times they used the term “investigative technique.” The censoring suggests that Mr. Dmitriev was wiretapped.
Mr. Prince met with Mr. Dmitriev on Jan. 11, 2017, at the Four Seasons Resort in the Seychelles at Mr. Nader’s villa. Days later, Mr. Bannon expressed no interest in the meeting. He told the Mueller team that he would have discouraged it if he had known. Mr. Dmitriev told Mr. Nader that the Prince meeting was a waste of time.
Mr. Prince testified on Nov. 30, 2017, before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence that the encounter with Mr. Dmitriev wasn’t planned and lasted a few minutes in a hotel bar. The committee released a transcript at his request.
Democrats said he lied and sent a criminal referral to the Justice Department to investigate Mr. Prince for testifying falsely.
There is no evidence in the Mueller report that the Nader-Prince-Dmitriev nexus was tied to Russia’s election interference.
The FBI also relied on cellphone data to verify the location in London of Trump volunteer George Papadopoulos, one of the investigation’s key principals. It centered on the pivotal relationship between Papadopoulos, who wanted to set up a Trump-Kremlin meeting, and Joseph Mifsud, a mysterious London-based professor from Malta.
Mr. Mifsud told Papadopoulos he had heard in Moscow that the Russians owned thousands of Hillary Clinton emails. Papadopoulos ended up telling Alexander Downer, the Australian ambassador to the United Kingdom, according to Mr. Downer. Papadopoulos denies this.
The Australian government replayed the conversation to the Obama administration. The FBI started on July 31, 2016, a nearly three-year investigation that failed to find election interference by Papadopoulos or any Trump associate.
Concerning cellphones, the Mueller reported states: “Papadopoulos’s and Mifsud’s mentions of seeing each other ‘tomorrow’ referenced a meeting that the two had scheduled for the next morning, April 12, 2016, at the Andaz Hotel in London. Papadopoulos acknowledged the meeting during interviews with the Office, and records from Papadopoulos’s UK cellphone and his internet-search history all indicate that the meeting took place.”
Several Trump associates such as Papadopoulos wonder whether they were wiretapped by Western intelligence. One Trump associate, Carter Page, knows he was.
Relying heavily on Mr. Steele’s dossier, the FBI in October 2016 won court permission to penetrate Mr. Page’s communications. Federal judges approved three more warrants, taking the spying to September 2017.
Such warrants under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) can be highly intrusive. The FBI can invade all computer and phone contacts as well as text messages and calls, peering back months to see what the target was saying.
Yet the special counsel’s report makes no mention of this surveillance or that agents ever relied on Mr. Page’s cellphone. After a year’s worth of wiretaps and multiple interviews with the FBI, Mr. Page wasn’t charged.