December 6, 2017 10:07 pm
Blackwater founder Erik Prince detailed to House Intelligence Committee investigators a January meeting he held with a Russian banker in the Seychelles that he said was unrelated to his support for the Trump campaign, according to a transcript of his closed-door interview released Wednesday.
Prince in November told lawmakers probing Russian interference in the U.S. election that he met with Kirill Dmitriev, the head of a Russian sovereign wealth fund under U.S. sanctions since 2015, for less than 30 minutes over a beer at the suggestion of United Arab Emirates (UAE) royalty, whose invitation was the basis for his trip to the luxury islands.
According to Prince’s recollections of the meeting, Dmitriev told the former military contractor that he wished trade would resume between the United States and Russia “in a normal way,” but did not discuss U.S. sanctions at all.
“I remember telling him that if Franklin Roosevelt could work with [Joseph] Stalin to defeat Nazi fascism, certainly the United States could work with Vladimir Putin to defeat Islamic fascism,” Prince told investigators, according to the transcript.
There was no follow-up to the meeting with Dmitriev, he said.
Prince characterized his involvement with the Trump campaign as a donor and supporter who would occasionally write policy papers, but said that he held no official capacity.
He acknowledged that campaign strategist Stephen Bannon had told him about a December 2016 meeting between the Trump transition team and UAE officials, which reportedly annoyed the Obama administration at the time.
But Prince said he could not remember whether the conversation with Bannon took place before or after his trip to the Seychelles.
“I think I remember Steve Bannon saying they had met with either [Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, crown prince of UAE] or someone like that and that he was a great guy,” he said. “That’s all I recall of that conversation.”
Democrats on the panel have pointed out that the December meeting between the Trump transition team and the UAE took place just weeks prior to Prince’s Jan. 11 meeting with Dmitriev, which was brokered by Emirati officials.
Prince described the arrangement of his meeting with Dmitriev as informal, telling investigators that the real purpose of his trip was to meet with Emirati officials to discuss terrorism in the area and “conceptual-only stuff” on mineral-related business. Those meetings were similarly brief, he said.
“It was a matter of, ‘Hey, while you’re here, there’s a Russian guy that we’ve done some business with in the past, and it’d be interesting for you to meet him,’ ” Prince told investigators.
Committee Democrats have characterized his answers as incomplete.
“On the details of this meeting, Prince was 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,” Rep. Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffHouse Democrat slams Donald Trump Jr. for ‘serious case of amnesia’ after testimony Top intel Dem: Trump Jr. refused to answer questions about Trump Tower discussions with father Erik Prince says meeting with Russian banker unrelated to Trump campaign MORE (D-Calif.) said in a statement on Wednesday.
“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.”
The Seychelles meeting has been public knowledge since April, when its existence was first reported by The Washington Post.
At the time, The Post reported that the meeting was part of an apparent effort to establish a “back-channel line of communication” between Russia and then-President-elect Trump.
According to the newspaper, the UAE brokered the meeting “in part” to explore whether Russia might be persuaded to back away from its relationship with Iran and Syria.
Prince in his testimony told investigators that former intelligence community officials had provided him with “specific evidence” that improper unmasking of names in classified signals intelligence was the basis for the Post’s story.
He declined to provide the committee the names of those individuals in an unclassified setting, but was adamant that the Obama administration had inappropriately manipulated signals intelligence, or SIGINT.
“Unless The Washington Post has somehow miraculously recruited the bartender of a hotel in the Seychelles, the only way that’s happening is through SIGINT,” he said. “If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck.”
The leak of the existence of the meeting, Prince said, angered the Emiratis whom he had traveled to the Seychelles to meet.
“That comes back to my concern about, what is the community going to do about unlawful leaking and the political abuse of the intelligence apparatus that affects Americans?” he said.
Schiff on Wednesday called for the committee to subpoena Prince to testify on what the intelligence officials told him.
— Olivia Beavers contributed.
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