While the eyes of the world were on Donald Trump at his inauguration in Washington DC in January, one man a few feet away from the newly sworn in 45th President of the United States had his attention elsewhere.
General Michael Flynn – a much decorated veteran of wars in Afghanistan and Iraq turned trusted security adviser to Trump – instead was looking at his mobile phone as he texted: ‘Good to go.’
The simple message signalled his hope for an end to sanctions against Russia, allowing an incredible trillion-dollar deal to build nuclear reactors across the Middle East to go ahead.
General Michael Flynn (circled) – a much decorated veteran of wars in Afghanistan and Iraq turned trusted security adviser to Trump – instead was looking at his mobile phone as he texted: ‘Good to go’
According to shock testimony revealed this week by a whistleblower speaking to the probe into links between Trump and the Kremlin and Russian meddling in the US election, the text was sent to British millionaire businessman Alex Copson. Though Copson entirely denies the whistleblower’s claims, he is now at the heart of the biggest political scandal since Watergate.
Flynn has since fallen from his position at the heart of the Trump administration after lying to cover up his links to Russia. He is said to have turned FBI informer in an investigation that could bring down the President.
It is a story that even has bizarre echoes of the TV drama House Of Cards – in which, by a strange coincidence, Copson’s actress wife has appeared. While the very existence of the bombshell text is in dispute, there is no doubt that Copson, 65, had previously hired Flynn as an adviser for the ambitious project to build 45 nuclear power plants with Russian companies.
But the venture – poised to yield unimaginable profits – had been held up by sanctions imposed by President Barack Obama on a Russian state-owned arms firm involved in the global deal.
With Flynn set for a top political role with Trump in the White House, Copson is said to have boasted the US sanctions would be ‘ripped up’ within days.
General Michael Flynn, left, with Vladimir Putin in 2015, had been hired by Copson as an adviser on the nuclear project
The unnamed, female whistleblower – said to be an experienced lawyer – told a senior Democrat Congressman that Copson showed her the text from Flynn at an inauguration day event in Washington DC, and said: ‘Mike (Flynn) has been putting everything in place for us. I am going to celebrate today. This is going to make a lot of very wealthy people.’
Copson is said to have blamed President Obama for ‘f*****g everything up in my nuclear deal with the sanctions,’ adding: ‘This is the best day of my life. This is the start of something I’ve been working on for years and we are good to go.’
The astonishing claims come as US Congressional investigations unearth more and more evidence fuelling allegations of collusion between the Trump election campaign and the Kremlin, not least the ‘troll factory’ in St Petersburg which poured out fake news to influence US voters. An official Congressional probe headed by former FBI boss Robert Mueller has been set up to investigate the allegations.
A whistleblower’s testimony claims Flynn texted Alex Copson above in a rare picture from 1992
Meanwhile, Democrats on the House of Representatives’ Oversight Committee are also probing Flynn’s involvement in the Middle East nuclear power project.
This is the best day of my life. This is the start of something I’ve been working on for years and we are good to go
Flynn, a senior military commander who served in the US Army for 33 years, was forced to resign from his role as Trump’s National Security Adviser after just 24 days when it emerged he had lied about conversations he had with a Russian diplomat about lifting economic sanctions. After pleading guilty to making false statements to the FBI, Flynn has said he will ‘co-operate fully’ with Mueller’s investigation. Now there is speculation that Flynn may have ‘flipped’ and plans to implicate Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner – husband of Trump’s daughter Ivanka – by claiming Kushner had ordered him to contact Russian officials to try to dig up dirt on Hillary Clinton.
Both Kushner and Trump have vehemently denied any Russian connection.
The whistleblower’s allegations about Flynn’s text to Copson were made to US Congressman Elijah Cummings, a senior Democrat who sits on the Oversight Committee. He said: ‘She is someone who has practised in the law for many years.
I found her account quite credible.’ But Copson’s firm, ACU Strategic Partners, last night denied there was any contact between the company and Flynn at any point while Flynn was working for Trump.
Copson has spent three decades pursuing lucrative environmental waste projects and has forged close business relationships with people at the top of American politics, and also with Russian state officials eager to pursue massive deals after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
He worked with Viktor Mikhailov, Russia’s Minister of Atomic Energy, at the time when Copson was seeking to set up a storage facility on Wake Island in the Pacific.
Copson’s plan was to build nuclear plants in Middle East
Another of Copson’s projects with prominent US and Russian figures envisaged a nuclear waste dustbin in Siberia, with the Kremlin giving its backing to a plan worth billions of pounds. The project was supported by Russian President Vladimir Putin and had the backing of then prime minister Mikhail Fradkov, a former KGB officer and leader of Russia’s SVR foreign intelligence service. But the deal reportedly collapsed in 2004 when America withdrew its support.
Copson’s latest venture is to lead a new consortium of US, French, Ukrainian and Russian companies – backed with money from Saudi investors – to build 45 nuclear power plants across the Middle East. It is claimed the deal could be worth as much as $1 trillion. This is because the deals last for decades and involve transporting highly-dangerous waste material.
Donald Trump’s election as president is a game changer because Trump’s highest foreign policy priority is to stabilise US relations with Russia which are now at a historical low-point
The project, led by his firm ACU Strategic Partners, had stalled because the security for the reactors and dangerous nuclear waste was to be provided by Rosoboronexport, a Russian state-owned arms exporter that is currently under US sanctions.
Copson has confirmed that he hired Flynn as a strategic adviser from April 2015 until June 2016. In June 2015, Flynn travelled to Egypt and Israel to promote the reactor project. In a letter to Congressmen, Copson said he wrote Flynn a $25,000 cheque and paid him $5,000 to cover his expenses for the trip to Egypt and Israel – but claims the cheque was never cashed.
Documents obtained by Reuters earlier this month revealed enthusiastic emails reportedly sent by Copson to potential investors in the project days after the election.
On November 16, 2016 – eight days after Trump won – Copson wrote: ‘Donald Trump’s election as president is a game changer because Trump’s highest foreign policy priority is to stabilise US relations with Russia which are now at a historical low-point.’
A nuclear expert called Reuben Sorensen wrote an email to Copson two days later in which he said he had spoken to Flynn about ACU’s project. Sorensen wrote: ‘Flynn is getting closer to (being named) National Security Adviser. Expect an announcement soon. This is a big win for the ACU project.’ Sorensen added in the email: ‘Spoke with him via backchannels earlier this week. He has always believed in the vision of the ACU effort.’
However, Donald Gross, a lawyer for ACU Strategic Partners, denied that there was any contact between Copson’s company and Flynn at any point while Flynn was working for Trump. In a statement on its website, ACU said the Middle East nuclear deal was meant to ‘ensure the US plays a key role in developing nuclear energy in the region to secure US jobs and exports via partnerships with France, Britain and Ukraine.’
Bizarre twist as tycoon’s wife starred in House Of Cards
The alleged embroilment of the White House with the Kremlin and multi-billion-dollar business echoes TV’s House Of Cards, in which Alex Copson’s actress wife Maureen Reese (below, left) appeared.
Pictured: Alex Copson’s wife Maureen Reese who starred alongside Kevin Spacey in House of Cards
In Season Two, the ambitions of Vice President Francis Underwood (Kevin Spacey, above right) were blocked by tycoon Raymond Tusk – until a murky conspiracy linked to China saw Underwood become President.
Through his lawyer, Copson claimed to The Mail on Sunday last night that part of the plan was to build two nuclear reactors in Britain, but he did not provide additional information when asked. The company’s statement said: ‘ACU, as a matter of strict company policy, has never used or accepted investment funds from any foreign government or any company affiliated with any foreign government.’ The Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post have reported that Flynn did indeed push a version of the nuclear project in a memo to Trump while he was his National Security Adviser. Two US officials claimed a policy document Flynn prepared for Trump’s approval proposed working with Russia on a nuclear reactor project but it did not specifically mention ACU. The officials said they did not know if Trump had ever read the memo or acted upon it.
All of this will be probed by the special counsel investigation led by Mueller.
Copson’s business background is as a naval architect and an engineer who made his fortune in the late 1980s by inventing a piece of equipment that allowed North Sea divers to stay underwater for longer.
Born in 1952 in Egypt to a British father and a Greek mother, Copson grew up in the UK, making his home in Mayfair after he found business success. He moved to the US in the 1990s, making his new home in Washington DC, where with his cut-glass English accent he has moved around the corridors of power as a dealmaker. In 2002, he married third wife Maureen Reese, 49, an American actress who played a news reporter in House Of Cards. Together they live in the wealthy Georgetown area of Washington.
In the 1980s, Copson launched a bid to hook up British homes to Icelandic electricity by running a 1,000-mile cable under the sea. And, intriguingly, at the height of the Cold War in 1986 he filed a patent for a system that he claimed could launch spacecraft from a ship’s deck while at sea. Now it is a power game being played out at the highest level of US politics that will determine the success of Copson’s most ambitious venture of all.
General Flynn did not respond to our requests to comment. ACU denied that Copson received a text message from Flynn.
- Additional reporting: William Lowther in Washington DC