The top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee says he wants to hear from a Lebanese-American businessman who helped organize a January 2017 meeting in the Seychelles that was allegedly set up to establish a back channel between the incoming Trump administration and the Kremlin.
Representative Adam Schiff said Thursday that he wants George Nader to testify to help clear up inconsistencies with earlier testimony about the same meeting from another witness, Erik Prince, who founded the Blackwater security firm. He also wants Prince to return to answer more questions about the encounter on the Indian Ocean archipelago.
Nader’s emergence as a figure in that meeting was reported by The New York Times, which said he’s cooperating with Special Counsel Robert Mueller in providing evidence about that meeting and its possible use in developing a back channel before Trump took office on a platform that included establishing better relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
In his testimony on Nov. 30, Prince — who was an informal adviser to Trump’s transition team and whose sister, Betsy DeVos is now education secretary — described the meeting at a hotel with Russian banker Kirill Dmitriev as happenstance.
‘This Russian Guy’
As Prince told it, he was meeting with the crown prince of the United Arab Emirates to discuss topics including Middle East tensions and bauxite mining when the prince’s brother casually suggested that he go downstairs to chat with “this Russian guy.”
Prince never mentioned a role for Nader in arranging the meeting with Dmitriev. He also said he had no knowledge of a meeting in New York the month before between a U.A.E. delegation and Steve Bannon, who was then Trump’s top strategist, as well as Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and incoming National Security Advisor Michael Flynn.
Prince rejected suggestions by Schiff and Democrats that Bannon might have been involved in sending him to the Seychelles to follow up on that session.
Schiff said Nader’s information “is obviously at odds with” Prince’s testimony.
“This is an issue that is clearly important to our investigation,” Schiff said of the Intelligence Committee’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign and whether anyone close to Trump collaborated in it. Schiff said he also wants Prince to turn over documents the committee has sought, but which he hasn’t yet provided.
The Republican leading the committee’s investigation, Michael Conaway of Texas, wouldn’t respond when asked whether he might ask Nader to testify and Prince to return.
Prince is best known for his time running Blackwater, whose employees were convicted of killing Iraqi citizens, including children, in a 2007 gun battle in Baghdad.