In Testy Testimony, Erik Prince Denies Involvement In Sketchy Russia Dealings

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Blackwater founder and Trump donor Erik Prince wasn’t pleased that the House Intelligence Committee called him in for a Nov. 30 interview, as his newly released closed-door testimony makes abundantly clear.

In the transcript of the over three-hour-long interview, an increasingly testy Prince offered blanket denials of any involvement in or awareness of untoward dealings tied to the Trump campaign and Russia.

“Front side, back side, no side, never got any indication of anything like that,” Prince said when asked if he knew of any exchange of information or discussions of establishing a backchannel line of communications between the Trump team and Kremlin.

The bulk of the questions focused on Prince’s secret January 2017 trip to the Seychelles, where he met with Kirill Dmitriev, an ally of President Vladimir Putin and CEO of the Russian Direct Investment Fund. While the Washington Post, which broke the news of the meeting, reported that Prince presented himself as an “unofficial envoy for Trump,” Prince testified that the principal purpose of his visit to the island nation was an invitation to meet with members of the United Arab Emirates’ royal family, one of whom casually suggested he meet with Dmitriev for a drink.

Dmietriev was described to him, he testified, as a “Russian guy that we’ve dealt with in the past” who would be “an interesting guy for you to know, since you’re doing a lot in the oil and gas and mineral space.”

Prince testified that he was not representing the Trump team during their 30-minute conversation; that he couldn’t “recall” if he knew Dmitriev represented a state-banked investment bank sanctioned by the U.S.; and that he did not discuss sanctions or anything related to the incoming Trump administration with the banker. Dmitriev did, however, express “how much he wished trade would resume with the United States in a normal way.”

Prince repeatedly tried to turn his conversation with lawmakers towards the leaking of classified intelligence information, which he insisted should be the real concern of Capitol Hill and the intelligence community. He repeatedly asserted that he believed he’d been illegally “unmasked” by members of the Obama administration and that the revelation of his identity had affected his ability “to do banking, to do business.”

At points, the conversation took a turn for the comic. Prince, whose sister is Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, repeatedly denied having a special relationship with the Trump team, despite acknowledging that he submitted foreign policy position papers on the Middle East to the campaign, frequently texted with campaign CEO Steve Bannon, and visited Trump Tower several times during the transition.

“How would you describe the role of a citizen voter who wrote policy memos for a campaign, made multiple visits to Trump Tower, made six-figure donations to the campaign, and conducted a number of meetings with the campaign’s manager?” Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA) asked.

“Someone who cares about their country,” Prince replied.

Prince became increasingly short with the predominantly Democratic lawmakers questioning him as the hearing proceeded, dismissing their queries as a “waste of time” and “fishing expedition.”

Read the full transcript of his interview below.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Allegra Kirkland is a New York-based reporter for Talking Points Memo. She previously worked on The Nation’s web team and as the associate managing editor for AlterNet. Follow her on Twitter @allegrakirkland.

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