Erik Prince lied to someone. The only question is who.
The unofficial Trump campaign adviser testified under oath before the House Intelligence Committee in late 2017 about a meeting he had with Kirill Dmitriev, the head of Russia’s sovereign wealth fund, in the Seychelles on January 11, 2017.
At the time, Prince described the meeting as an impromptu conversation at the hotel bar where the two men briefly chatted about foreign policy and commodity prices before parting ways.
Special counsel Robert Mueller’s final report paints a different picture. The report, based in part on interviews with Prince, describes the meeting not as a quick chat over a beer but as a planned rendezvous between emissaries of President Donald Trump’s team and the Kremlin.
“We have no comment to make,” Prince spokesperson Marc Cohen told ThinkProgress in response to a detailed list of questions. “Erik has said all there is to say on this.”
A side-by-side comparison of Prince’s congressional testimony and the Mueller report shows at least a dozen inconsistencies on six key points:
- Who introduced Prince and Dmitriev,
- How many times Prince and Dmitriev met in Seychelles,
- Whether Prince acted on behalf of the Trump transition team,
- Whether Prince knew Dmitriev ran Russia’s sovereign wealth fund,
- Whether Prince and Dmitriev discussed a “back channel,” and
- Whether Prince briefed then-senior Trump aide Steve Bannon on the meeting.
In response to hard questions last month about another part of his congressional testimony, Prince first claimed without evidence that the official transcript of the testimony was wrong, then said not all the conversation was transcribed.
“And that’s a fact,” Prince added.
Prince, 49, is best known for founding the private-security firm Blackwater, which became infamous during the height of the Iraq War. But he has deep ties to the Trump administration. His sister, Betsy DeVos, is secretary of education, and he was a fixture at Trump Tower during the presidential transition.
Prince’s congressional testimony suggests that he and Dmitriev, a close Putin ally, were simply like-minded businessmen chatting over beers. But the Mueller report paints them as cutouts forging a secret backchannel between the Kremlin and Trump Tower.
Even if their meeting was banal, however, the inconsistencies between Prince’s congressional testimony and his statements to the special counsel could land him in legal peril. Mueller indicted former Trump aides Roger Stone and Michael Cohen for making false statements to Congress. Now, with the Mueller report in hand, House Democrats are increasingly flexing their oversight muscles.
Neither Bannon nor Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), chair of the House Intelligence Committee, responded to requests from ThinkProgress. The special counsel’s office declined to comment.
Who introduced Prince and Dmitriev?
In his testimony to Congress, Prince said he flew to the Seychelles to meet with Mohamed bin Zayed, crown prince of the United Arab Emirates, about potential business together.
After their one-hour meeting, Prince said that a member of bin Zayed’s entourage suggested he connect with “this Russian guy that deals in commodities” while he was in town. Later that night, Prince told Congress, he and Dmitriev talked briefly at the hotel bar.
According to the Mueller report, however, an old business associate, George Nader, suggested that Prince meet with Dmitriev on behalf of the Trump transition during a meeting in New York City on January 3, 2017. Nader is a Lebanese-American businessman who acts as an adviser and emissary for bin Zayed. He continued to push Prince and Dmitriev to meet, ultimately setting up their conversation in the Seychelles.
How many times did Prince and Dmitriev meet in the Seychelles?
Prince told Congress he only met Dmitriev once, for 20 to 30 minutes, and hadn’t had any contact with him before or since:
That isn’t true, according to Mueller’s report. The special counsel described two meetings between Dmitriev and Prince in the Seychelles on January 11, 2017. The first, which lasted 30 to 45 minutes, took place in Nader’s villa. The second brief meeting was at a restaurant in the Four Seasons Resort.
Was Prince acting on behalf of the Trump transition team?
This question goes to the heart of why Congress and Mueller investigated the Seychelles meeting. Prince was an unofficial adviser to the Trump campaign and transition team, and he was especially close with Bannon. But he has long maintained that he flew to the Seychelles as a private citizen — not as an envoy or cutout for team Trump.
That claim is undercut by what Prince and Nader told Mueller about how and why Nader set up the meeting between Prince and Dmitriev.
Remarkably, Prince even told Dmitriev, at the end of their first meeting in Nader’s villa, that he would brief Bannon on their meeting and that any follow-up would come directly from the Trump transition team:
Mueller describes Dmitriev’s frustration that Nader didn’t introduce him to someone with more authority within the incoming Trump administration, such as a senior official rather than an unofficial emissary. But Dmitriev clearly believed that Bannon sent Prince, as he told Rick Gerson, an associate of Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, in a text message on January 18, 2017:
Bannon told the special counsel’s office he knew nothing about the meeting.
Did Prince know Dmitriev ran Russia’s sovereign wealth fund?
Throughout his testimony to Congress, Prince referred to Dmitriev as a hedge fund CEO. Pressed by Reps. Francis Rooney (R-FL) and Jackie Speier (D-CA) on whether he knew that Dmitriev was actually CEO of the state-sponsored Russian Direct Investment Fund, which is under partial U.S. sanctions, Prince claimed ignorance:
But Nader sent Prince a link to Dmitriev’s Wikipedia page on January 3, 2017, before the Seychelles meeting, according to the Mueller report. Archived copies show that the page described Dmitriev as “a Russian businessman and CEO of the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), a $10 billion sovereign wealth fund created by the Russian government.”
Two days later, Nader sent Prince a copy of Dmitriev’s bio, which Prince opened while at Trump Tower.
On his return from the Seychelles, Prince told Mueller, he briefed Bannon on the meeting and “explained that Dmitriev was the head of a Russian sovereign wealth fund.” Bannon denied that in an interview with the special counsel’s office.
Did Prince and Dmitriev discuss a “back channel”?
This question gets to the heart of Congress’ and Mueller’s interest in the Seychelles meeting. Prince told Congress that his meeting with Dmitriev was prompted by their shared interest in oil and mineral commodities. They spoke about U.S.-Russia relations, Prince said, but only as any private American and Russian businessmen might while chatting casually. He flatly denied discussing a “back channel” between the Kremlin and the Trump transition team.
Mueller makes it clear, however, that Nader arranged for the meeting between Prince and Dmitriev because the Russian banker wanted to meet members of the incoming administration on behalf of the Kremlin. And during their first meeting, Prince told Dmitriev that he could expect any follow-up to come directly from the Trump transition team. Prince made a similar promise to Nader.
Did Prince brief Bannon about his meeting with Dmitriev?
Prince didn’t just promise Dmitriev and Nader that he would brief Bannon about the meeting: According to Mueller, he followed through. Prince and Bannon met at Bannon’s home in mid-January to debrief, Prince told the special counsel’s office.
That contrasts sharply with the repeated assurances Prince gave Congress that he did not tell Bannon or anyone else on team Trump about his meeting with Dmitriev:
Bannon told the special counsel’s office that Prince never briefed him before or after the meeting, and that he “would have objected to such a meeting taking place.”
This is one question even Mueller and his team couldn’t answer: Neither Prince nor Bannon had any text messages on their phone from January 2017, despite exchanging dozens, and neither could explain why the messages were no longer on their phones.