Erik Prince, the Trump-boosting founder of defunct military contracting firm Blackwater, was conspicuously elusive when members of Congress grilled him over his contacts with a Kremlin-connected banker, records made public Wednesday reveal.
Prince was questioned behind closed doors for nearly four hours by the House Intelligence Committee on Nov. 30 over a trip he took to the Seychelles on Jan. 11, during which he met with Kirill Dmitriev, the head of a Russian wealth fund that has been under U.S. sanctions since 2015.
Prince claimed he travelled to the secluded island off Africa’s east coast to meet with officials from the United Arab Emirates for business purposes and that his meeting with Dmitriev was purely accidental.
But Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, didn’t buy that explanation.
“On the details of this meeting, Prince was again 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,” Schiff said in a Wednesday statement appended to Prince’s full declassified testimony.
“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.”
Prince — whose sister is Trump administration education secretary Betsy DeVos — denied reports he met with UAE officials and Dmitriev on behalf of the Trump transition team to establish a back-channel between Russian President Vladimir Putin and President Trump. But he conceded that he and Dmitriev discussed the possibility of stronger ties between Russia and the U.S.
“I remember telling him that if Franklin Roosevelt could work with Josef Stalin to defeat Nazi fascism, then certainly Donald Trump could work with Vladimir Putin to defeat Islamic fascism,” Prince told the committee.
Prince also acknowledged that Dmitriev told him he hoped Russian trade with the U.S. would resume “in a normal way.”
Other than those fragments, Prince mainly insisted he couldn’t recall most details of the trip.
Prince donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Trump campaign and has remained an avid supporter of the President. His military contracting company, Blackwater, has been under severe scrutiny over potential war crimes committed by its employees in Iraq.
Prince is one of several Trump associates facing flak in the expanding investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
Last week, disgraced national security adviser Michael Flynn became the first former or current Trump administration official to be convicted as part of special prosecutor Robert Mueller’s Russia probe. Flynn is now cooperating with Mueller’s investigators and more indictments are reportedly expected.