WASHINGTON — The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Adam Schiff, is making a criminal referral to the Justice Department for the founder of the security firm Blackwater, alleging he lied to the committee in 2017.
Erik Prince testified to the panel that a meeting in the Seychelles islands with a Russian with ties to President Vladimir Putin was a chance encounter.
“I didn’t fly there to meet any Russian guy,” Prince had said. That’s directly contradicted by the special counsel’s report on the Russia investigation, which says the meeting was set up ahead of time and that there were communications about it with Trump campaign adviser Steve Bannon.
Schiff said Tuesday there is strong evidence that Prince, a prominent supporter of President Donald Trump, “willingly misled” the Intelligence Committee as it probed connections between Trump’s campaign and Russia.
“The evidence is so weighty that the Justice Department needs to consider this,” said Schiff, D-Calif.
The Justice Department didn't have immediate comment on the referral. Prince is the brother of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.
Questions have long surrounded the mysterious meeting. Prince met with Kirill Dmitriev, who headed a Russian sovereign wealth fund, as Trump was preparing to take office and the Russian government was seeking contacts with the incoming administration. Dmitriev reported directly to Putin, according to special counsel Robert Mueller's report.
Prince told Mueller's investigators that he had briefed Bannon on the meeting, but Bannon told them they never discussed it. The report says investigators couldn't iron out the "conflicting accounts" by reviewing communications, in part because text messages between them were missing. Phone provider records showed that Bannon and Prince had exchanged dozens of messages, including two that Prince sent within hours of the meetings with Dmitriev, but the investigators could not find the messages on their phones.
Prince denied deleting messages and Bannon said he did not know why the messages were missing.