In an interview with congressional investigators made public on Wednesday, Erik Prince, the founder of security contractor Blackwater, offered details about a meeting he had with a Russian banker—and he denied that he was acting on behalf of President Donald Trump, as had been reported.
Prince testified before the House Intelligence Committee behind closed doors on November 30, and the committee released the transcript of his testimony on Wednesday. The committee is one of three congressional panels investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election and possible coordination with Trump’s presidential campaign.
The Washington Post had reported in April that Prince, who is the brother of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, met in January with a person close to Russian President Vladimir Putin for the purpose of establishing a way for Trump and Putin to communicate privately. Representatives for the United Arab Emirates were said to have arranged the meeting in the Seychelles islands. The Post claimed that Prince had “presented himself as an unofficial envoy for Trump.”
But in his testimony with the House investigators, Prince said he played neither an official nor unofficial role in the Trump campaign or on presidential transition team, though he had written policy papers and provided them to Steve Bannon, the chief executive of the campaign who became a Trump administration official. He also said he had interacted with Trump and other members of the campaign and transition teams.
Discussing the January meeting, Prince said that at the request of a prince from the United Arab Emirates, he traveled to the Seychelles islands to discuss business opportunities with the prince and his associates. He said he had previously known those people.
As the meeting was ending, someone suggested he meet with Kirill Dmitriev, a Russian banker who was in the area, according to the testimony. “You should meet him. He’d be an interesting guy for you to know,” Prince recalled the person who suggested the meeting saying. The person said something along the lines of, “He’ll be down in the bar area after dinner, if you wanted to meet this guy.”
Prince said he went to the hotel bar and used his phone to find a picture of the man. They met and discussed oil and commodity prices and trade between Russia and the United States, he testified. They also talked about “how the United States and Russia should be working together to defeat Islamic terrorism,” according to Prince. “I remember telling him that if Franklin Roosevelt could work with Joseph Stalin to defeat fascism, certainly the United States could work with Vladimir Putin to defeat Islamic fascism.”
Dmitriev is the head of the Russian Direct Investment Fund, a sovereign wealth fund that since 2015 has been subject to U.S. sanctions. Prince said they did not discuss the sanctions, but he recalled Dmitriev saying “how much he wished trade would resume with the United States in a normal way.” The meeting apparently lasted less than 30 minutes, enough time for Prince to drink one beer.
At various times during his testimony, Prince grew frustrated with the questions. At one point, he said, “Now listen. It’s 5:30. I haven’t been home in a week. I flew in this morning from Africa, and I’ve had about enough of this. So thank you.”
Representative Adam Schiff, the Democratic ranking member, told him that if he did not cooperate, the committee would issue a subpoena to compel him to return. Prince suggested the committee instead focus on who in the intelligence community leaked the details of his January meeting to the Post.
On his way out, Prince told reporters that Schiff should apologize for “wasting all of our time, for wasting millions of taxpayer dollars on a meaningless fishing expedition.”
In a statement on Wednesday, Schiff said that when discussing the January meeting, “Prince was again less than forthcoming and sought to represent that his discussion with Dmitriev, which comprised a third of the time he was conducting meetings in the Seychelles, was merely coincidental. Prince also could not adequately explain why he traveled halfway around the world to meet with UAE officials and, ultimately, the head of the Russian fund.”
On Wednesday, the committee also met behind closed doors with Donald Trump Jr. Democrats on the panel have accused the Republicans of trying to rush through the witness interviews in order to finish the probe prematurely. The Republicans have accused the Democrats of prolonging the investigation to keep the Russia conversation going into the 2018 midterm elections.
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