Wendy Siegelman does some amazing sleuthing on the financial aspects of the Russia controversy, but I have a hard time following all the shell companies and other shenanigans of the rich and famous. I think it definitely is worth looking at her reporting, including when it comes to former Blackwater CEO Erik Prince.
Since the late Winter, it has been well known that Prince is suspected of giving perjurious testimony to Congress when he appeared before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence on November 30, 2017. By June, it was apparent that Prince had been confronted by the Special Counsel and decided to cooperate in some form. At that time, a spokesman for Prince announced that total access to Prince’s phones and computer had been provided to Mueller’s investigators.
Having read through Siegelman’s work and other more mainstream articles, it appears to me that Prince gave false and misleading testimony on a wide range of topics, but the key issue that brought him before Congress was the meeting he had in the Seychelles in early pre-inauguration January 2016. The suspicion was that he was there to establish a backchannel so that Vladimir Putin could communicate with President-elect Trump beyond the scrutiny of the American intelligence services. But Prince denied this and said that his encounter with Kirill Dmitriev, the CEO of the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), was unplanned and lasted no longer than it takes to drink a beer.
On this single issue, there is new evidence that Prince was lying. As The Daily Beast reports, Mr. Dmitriev apparently wrote a “communication” which was basically a kind of after-report of the meeting he had had with Prince in the Seychelles. And that communication was shared with people and has now been examined by Daily Beast reporters Betsy Woodruff and Erin Banco.
Prince testified in front of Congress that the meeting was a chance encounter and that the two men discussed improved trade relations “over a beer.” But materials reviewed by The Daily Beast show the meeting was set up in advance. And the memo, which The Daily Beast viewed, includes a much wider range of topics than what Prince revealed during his testimony.
The memo not only proposes that the U.S. and Russia worked together to fight ISIS in Syria via a joint military operation that would take out a key leader of the terrorist group. The document also suggests a U.S.-Russia financial partnership, which would include RDIF investing in the Midwest. Lastly, the memo proposed the U.S. and Russia set up a small working group with “2-3 people from each side authorized to finalize an action plan for a major improvement in the U.S.-Russia relationship.”
Whatever the conversation in the Seychelles, the memo appears to deal with subjects outside the scope of Dmitriev’s formal responsibilities as CEO of RDIF.
I am certain that the Special Counsel’s office is interested in Erik Prince for many reasons, some of which are probably far more serious than his meeting in the Seychelles, but I want to keep this fairly simple.
There would not be controversy about an incoming president establishing backchannels to a foreign government if that foreign government hadn’t assisted the campaign of the incoming president. Wanting better relations with Russia isn’t a crime, no matter how ill-advised it might be, and there’s nothing wrong with quietly talking to an adversary.
The easiest way to understand that something was wrong with the Seychelles meeting is to notice that Prince lied about how it came about and what they discussed. He could have been honest about it if there wasn’t something deeply untoward about the whole affair.
One thing Prince was able to avoid by denying that the meeting had been planned was having to divulge who authorized him to make the trip and what kind of instructions he was provided. We know that George Nader facilitated the meeting and was also in attendance. He was arrested in January 2018 and has been a cooperating witness since that time. Part of that cooperation has obviously involved an explanation of how the Seychelles meeting came about, and it obviously wasn’t by chance.
Meanwhile, as recently as September, Prince was sitting down with the Military Times to pitch them on his plan to privatize the war in Afghanistan. He’s not acting like someone who is about to go to jail.
Perhaps that’s because he’s been cooperative with the Special Counsel, but in that case I think the Special Counsel should require him to correct his testimony before Congress before they give him a pass.