Erik Prince appears to have withheld critical information in his sworn testimony before the House Intelligence Committee.
The private security contractor and Blackwater founder told Congress that he was barely involved with the Trump campaign during the 2016 election cycle, and that most of his interaction with the team came during the presidential transition.
Reports that have since surfaced gravely undermine that version of events.
Most recently, a blockbuster New York Times report published Saturday detailed how Prince personally arranged and attended an August 2016 meeting between foreign emissaries and Donald Trump’s eldest son. At the meeting, Prince told Donald Trump Jr. that “we are working hard for your father.”
The Times report provides new evidence that Prince may have knowingly perjured himself in his congressional testimony. Lying to Congress is a crime punishable by up to five years in prison, but it is rarely enforced.
Prince’s interview focused primarily on a January 2017 trip he took to the Seychelles, ostensibly to meet with officials from the United Arab Emirates, and a conversation he had there with a Russian banker allied with Vladimir Putin. In his testimony, Prince downplayed the trip, saying it was primarily an opportunity to discuss business prospects with the UAE’s government and characterizing his conversation with the banker, Kirill Dmitriev, as a chance encounter. Prince insisted that he was not there as a representative of the incoming administration.
In Prince’s account, his contact with the Trump campaign was limited to semi-regular text exchanges with Steve Bannon, providing a few unsolicited papers on Middle East policy, and donating money.
That does not appear to be accurate.
George Nader, a Lebanese-American businessman who serves as a top adviser to the UAE, has told Special Counsel Robert Mueller that the Seychelles meeting was actually a planned effort to set up a secret communications backchannel between the Trump transition team and Russian government, according to reports.
In sworn statements, Nader, who is now a cooperating witness, said that he helped orchestrate the meeting specifically so that Prince and Dmitriev could discuss relations between the two countries.
As ABC News reported, Nader met with Prince in New York a week before the Seychelles trip to brief him about the meeting, and subsequently sent him biographical information about Dmitriev that included his connection to Putin.
Prince testified that he shared a beer with Dmitriev at the Four Seasons’ bar on the recommendation of “one of the brothers” of UAE Crown Prince Mohammad bin Zayed, who thought Dmitriev would be “an interesting guy” for Prince to know.
Then there is the August 2016 Trump Tower meeting, which Prince personally organized. The other attendees were an Israeli specialist in social media manipulation, Trump Jr., and Nader, who promised that Saudi Arabia and UAE officials were eager to help Trump win the election, according to the Times.
Prince did not respond to the Times’ request for comment.
The Republican security contractor never mentioned this summit to the House Intelligence Committee. He explicitly denied having any “formal communications or contact with the campaign” aside from texting with Bannon, providing policy papers, donating funds, and putting up a Trump sign in his yard. Asked if he’d ever met Trump Jr., Prince said they were introduced at a campaign event and that they ran into each other “a couple times when I was up there during the transition.”
“I have never purported or positioned to having any great access to the Trump administration,” Prince, whose sister Betsy DeVos is the Secretary of Education, testified.
Prince grew increasingly irritated by lawmakers’ questions as the three-hour interview went on, telling them he’d “had about enough of this” and that he was “not here to indulge your fishing expedition any longer.”
At one point, he snapped at Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL) for inquiring about the extent of his business interests in the UAE prior to the Seychelles meeting. The focus of the interview, Prince said, was supposed to be on Russia’s interference with the election.
“It’s just amazing how these things all find a way to be connected,” Quigley replied.