Russia Probe Democrats Want Another Shot at Erik Prince
When the House intel panel changes leadership, three members of the committee want the Blackwater founder, ‘who refused to answer our questions,’ back for more Russia testimony.
House intelligence committee members are eager to have the founder of mercenary company Blackwater back for another round of interviews about Donald Trump’s ties to Russia, according to three members of its incoming majority.
Democrats have lots of outstanding questions about Erik Prince’s curious January 2017 trip to the Seychelles, where, at the invitation of a coterie around the crown prince of the United Arab Emirates, he met with an influential Russian moneyman. They also have concerns about Prince’s candor during their prior interview last year.
But Prince, through a spokesperson, suggested the committee may have to force him to return to Capitol Hill.
Rep. Mike Quigley, an Illinois Democrat, said he wants the panel to recall Prince for more questioning, indicating dissatisfaction with his November 2017 appearance.
“My priority is to bring back anyone before HPSCI who refused to answer our questions, and that includes Erik Prince,” Quigley told The Daily Beast on Thursday, using an acronym referring to the House intelligence panel.
His colleague, California Democrat Jackie Speier, sounded similar notes in anticipation of the Democrats taking control of the committee next month, and indicated Prince will have plenty of company.
“The first thing to do is subpoena all their emails, DMs, etc., and then I expect most of the witnesses in the Trump orbit will be asked to come back,” Speier told The Daily Beast on Thursday. “Many of their stories have been discredited. That includes Erik Prince, but obviously many others as well.”
And Rep. Jim Himes, a Connecticut Democrat who grilled Prince when he appeared before the committee last year, said he still has questions for the Blackwater founder—and concerns he may have misled the committee.
“There’s some significant questions about the truthfulness of what he told the committee based on what we’ve learned subsequently,” he told The Daily Beast. “He also refused to answer a number of questions because he was there voluntarily. And I think it’s important that Congress get all of its questions answered, even if we have to subpoena him.”
A subpoena may be necessary, as Prince doesn’t seem eager for a second meeting with the committee.
“Erik has said everything he is going to say on this and has nothing further to add,” a Prince spokesperson told The Daily Beast.
Himes added that the timing of any repeat Prince appearance will likely depend on how Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation progresses. The Daily Beast first reported that Prince had spoken with Mueller.
“I’m a believer in watching Mueller unfold his final act and then filling in the gaps,” Himes said.
Anticipation is building among Russia-probe watchers over which old or new witnesses the intelligence committee will summon once Democrats assume control in January. An early committee priority, The Daily Beast has reported, is to chase the money trail among Trump’s associates. While committee Democrats have not yet decided on a renewed witness list, according to a Democratic committee aide, Prince’s name is among the first to surface.
Prince attended a meeting in the Seychelles in early 2017 that has drawn the attention of Trump-Russia investigators. The Washington Post, which first reported the story in April 2017, reported the meeting was an effort by the incoming Trump administration to set up a back channel with the Kremlin and that Prince represented the Trump team there.
Prince met with Kirill Dmitriev, the politically-connected head of one of Russia’s sovereign wealth funds in January. Dmitriev flew into the island on January 11 with his wife, Natalia Popova, according to flight records obtained by reporters at The Daily Beast. Dmitriev is the CEO of the fund, which was put under U.S. sanctions following Russia’s annexation of Crimea. Popova is reportedly close to the Putin family and sits on the board of Innopraktika, the technology foundation owned by Putin’s daughter.
Dmitriev and Prince met at a bar overlooking the Indian Ocean at the Four Seasons resort, according to two individuals with first hand knowledge of the encounter. Popova was also in the same room, but it is unclear if she participated in the conversation. George Nader, a Lebanese-American businessman who worked as an emissary for the Crown Prince of the UAE, Mohammed Bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, brokered the meeting. Nader was also closely connected to the Trump transition team, meeting several times in 2016 and 2017 with senior staff members and associates of Trump world, including Prince. Nader has cooperated extensively with the special counsel’s office.
In his House testimony, Prince said he had met Dmitriev, the head of a sanctioned Russian entity, “by chance” and that the meeting lasted over one beer. Prince said the two talked about trade relations and the burgeoning mineral market.
Two sources with first hand knowledge of the meeting said Prince had been briefed on Dmitriev and his fund before he flew to the Seychelles, suggesting the meeting was not a chance encounter. And recent reporting by The Daily Beast revealed that Prince and Dmitriev had a far more extensive relationship than previously reported. A memo shows the two spoke about a range of topics, including peace between Ukraine and Russia, military operations in Syria, investment in the Midwest, and nuclear weapons. Although RDIF is under U.S. sanctions, it was and is still legal for U.S. individuals to meet with Dmitriev, and, in some circumstances, do business with the fund.
Under questioning from Speier in November 2017, Prince committed to providing “information regarding any communication you had with the Trump Organization or campaign personnel or related individuals who may otherwise be linked to the Russian government or companies.” But the Democratic committee aide said that Prince “did not provide any additional documents, communications, or travel records to the Committee after his interview.”
Renewed interest on the committee in Prince comes as the panel’s Democratic leadership announced its intentions to provide complete transcripts of all the panel’s interviews from its Russia probe to Mueller. Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat expected to become committee chairman, indicated he considered several witnesses not to have told the legislators the truth.
“We are going through the transcripts of their testimony and all of these transcripts really need to be provided to Bob Mueller so he can make those decisions. Bob Mueller has the advantage of, I think, far more information than we do that would allow him to vet whether what these witnesses told our committee was true or not,” Schiff told ABC News on Sunday.
“I believe we were lied to,” Quigley told The Daily Beast–speaking generally, not specifically about Prince.