The Trump administration’s informal foreign policy adviser Erik Prince, who is best known for founding a military contracting firm called Blackwater that massacred 14 Iraqis in 2007 and who is the brother of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, appears to have lied to Congress about conducting an unsophisticated effort to connect the White House and the Kremlin, according to the redacted report of special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, released Thursday.
Mueller’s team interviewed Prince, former White House adviser Steve Bannon and George Nader, a convicted pedophile who works for the United Arab Emirates, a U.S. ally, and reviewed text messages, emails and other relevant data.
The report doesn’t explicitly say Prince lied under oath, which is in keeping with a so-called “queen for a day” immunity offered to those interviewed in the investigation. Mueller also did not indict Prince, as he did other associates of President Donald Trump. But the special counsel depicts his interactions with a well-connected Russian, Kirill Dmitriev, very differently from the way Prince did when he spoke with the House Intelligence Committee as part of its own inquiry into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
And along the way, Mueller drily notes how the American mercenary ― who pitches himself internationally as a mastermind who can maneuver terrain from Afghanistan to sub-Saharan Africa ― behaves in bush-league style.
Dmitriev told Nader that Moscow wanted Trump to win and asked him for introductions to influential figures in the president-elect’s orbit the morning after the 2016 election so he could pitch them on U.S.-Russia reconciliation, according to the report. It says Nader raised the request to Prince on Jan. 3, 2017, and then sent him a Wikipedia entry about the Russian and two attachments from Dmitriev himself.
Prince opened the attachments at Trump Tower on Jan. 4 while he was there for three hours waiting to see Bannon. In that time, he spoke with Kellyanne Conway, Wilbur Ross, Steve Mnuchin and other Trump associates, the Mueller report states. He then booked a flight to the Seychelles, a hub for the UAE leadership, and Nader invited Dmitriev to meet Prince there, telling him Prince would take information back to Trump’s team ― an impression Prince had given Nader, Mueller writes. Prince indicated he was working with Bannon, who later told the special counsel he had no advance knowledge of the Seychelles meeting.
The report says Prince and Dmitriev met at Nader’s villa on Jan. 11 for 30 to 45 minutes as Prince bashed President Barack Obama and again touted his ties to Bannon. Once Prince went back to his room, he learned a Russian aircraft carrier was headed to Libya and asked Nader to set up another meeting with the Kremlin’s emissary, allegedly because he had important news from Trump-world, according to the report. Prince told Dmitriev the U.S. did not want to see Russian interference in Libya ― something Mueller states with certainty, although his source is redacted and a footnote says Prince denied it, claiming instead that he presented himself simply as a former U.S. naval officer. Call records reviewed by the special counsel’s team show Prince texted Bannon twice after the meeting, but the content of those messages was not recovered.
Once back stateside, Prince met with Bannon in mid-January ― days before the former Breitbart chief was about to enter the White House as a top adviser to the president ― and told him about the conversation with Dmitriev, using a screenshot of the Russian’s Wikipedia page as his big presentation prop, the investigators write.
Prince told Mueller that Bannon indicated he was not interested in the proposed U.S.-Russia cooperation. Bannon denied to the special counsel’s team that such an interaction took place. And both men failed to provide dozens of text messages that records show flowed between them during that period, the report notes.
This account is starkly different from the one Prince offered lawmakers under oath.
Speaking on Nov. 30, 2017, the longtime Republican commentator said his talk with Dmitriev was in passing at a Seychelles bar ― not at the villa of a mutual contact ― and covered a range of issues like commodity trading rather than a plan for U.S.-Russia reconciliation.
Prince claimed he had not known of Dmitriev’s ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin or that they would meet at all, saying it came about because UAE figures he saw earlier in the day had suggested it. Notably, he used the word “Emiratis,” which wouldn’t describe Nader, despite his ties to the country’s leadership.
He said, too, that he did not tell anyone he met with Dmitriev, though the missing contents of the post-meeting texts to Bannon would have illuminated that.
Prince explicitly told the House committee he did not mention the conversation with Dmitriev to Bannon, despite what he told Mueller’s team months later. He eventually told Mueller, though, that he had said to Dmitriev he would mention the conversation to Bannon and Trump’s team would be in touch if they were interested in his proposal. Finally, he presented the interaction as one meeting, not the two Mueller has now reported.
Aides to Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), who took over the House Intelligence Committee once Democrats regained the lower chamber, did not respond to a HuffPost query about whether Schiff believes that Prince misrepresented the situation during his testimony and the committee might interview him again. Schiff had been vocal in his criticism of the way Republicans ran the committee’s inquiry when they were in control of it.
But whether or not Prince faces fresh legal jeopardy―he appears to have already been caught in a separate lie during his House interview by The Intercept’s Mehdi Hasan―there’s little upside for him in the report returning his name to headlines.
He’s shown relying on the most basic of methods ― Wikipedia ― as he tries to craft a major foreign policy shift for Washington. He seems to have repeatedly exaggerated his influence and abilities, solidifying the impression that that’s a signature tactic since he’s used it in repeated efforts to wield real power, for instance in loud (and loudly mocked) claims that he can end America’s entanglement in Afghanistan.
And he’s been found to have poured real money from the fortune he and DeVos inherited into a fever swamp of online conspiracy theories, as when in a separate part of the report Mueller notes Prince funded a technology analyst to check alleged emails from Trump’s rival Hillary Clinton that a GOP operative claimed to have found on the “dark web.” (The findings were, of course, bunk.)
Through media blitzes and tough talk, Prince has spent decades trying to project a certain image. On Thursday, Mueller offered the carefully annotated and far less impressive reality.