WASHINGTON — The top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee raised questions Thursday about whether Erik Prince, the founder of the private security company Blackwater, misled lawmakers in his testimony about a January 2017 meeting he held with a Russian official close to Vladimir Putin.
The meeting reportedly took place in the Seychelles shortly before President Trump was inaugurated. The Washington Post reported on Wednesday that Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III has evidence the Prince meeting was an effort by Trump’s allies to establish “a back channel” between the Trump administration and officials in Moscow.
According to the Post, Prince told lawmakers on the House Intelligence Committee that his meeting with the Russian official was an impromptu session that only came about because he and Kirill Dmitriev, the head of a Russian-controlled financial firm, both happened to be staying at the same hotel in the Seychelles, an island nation in the Indian Ocean. Prince reportedly denied reports that his meeting with Dmitriev was an effort to create a direct line of communication between Trump officials and Putin allies.
But according to the Post, “A witness cooperating with Mueller has told investigators the meeting was set up in advance so that a representative of the Trump transition could meet with an emissary from Moscow to discuss future relations between the countries.” The newspaper cited anonymous sources.
Mueller is investigating efforts by the Russian government to influence the 2016 presidential race and whether there was any collusion between the Trump campaign and Putin allies.
“There is clearly a significant discrepancy” between the Post story and what Prince told the committee, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., told reporters on Thursday. Schiff is the top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, which is also examining Russian efforts to sway the 2016 election.
“Which is accurate I don’t know … but clearly both can’t be true,” Schiff said. “It either was a back channel or it wasn’t … And we need to get to the bottom of it.”
Schiff said he would like to call Prince and other witness back before the committee for another round of questioning. Whether that will happen is unclear, as Democrats are in the minority and the committee’s probe has been mired in partisan sniping.
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