Erik Prince details Seychelles meeting with Russian banker

Blackwater founder Erik Prince testified to House lawmakers that he met the head of a Russian investment fund earlier this year — but he insisted it was not part of an effort to set up a Russian backchannel with the Trump administration, multiple sources told CNN.

In private testimony Thursday, Prince informed the House Intelligence Committee that he met in the Seychelles with Kirill Dmitriev, who is the chief executive of the state-run Russian Direct Investment Fund, at the request of the United Arab Emirates to discuss business opportunities. The meeting on the island in the Indian Ocean, he said, lasted roughly 20 minutes after dinner over a beer.

Prince insisted he did not have the meeting at the request of the Trump administration, according to multiple sources with direct knowledge of the situation.

Prince has come under scrutiny after it was reported that the January meeting was an apparent effort to set up a backchannel Russian communication with the Trump administration, and that senior Trump officials had authorized the meeting.

But Prince downplayed his ties to the Trump’s team, merely saying he was a Trump donor and had met the President on only one occasion, the sources said. CNN has previously reported that Prince met with members of Trump’s incoming national security team during the presidential transition, and that he boasted about his influence in the Trump orbit around that same time. 

Prince also railed against the Obama administration for unmasking the identities of individuals in intelligence reports, suggesting he knew the identities of the individuals who did the unmasking, the sources said.

Multiple sources said the roughly three-hour meeting was hostile, as Prince repeatedly expressed his disdain for the panel.

Prince told reporters after the interview that the committee had wasted his time and taxpayer dollars on a fishing expedition.

“I think Congressman Schiff should apologize for wasting all of our time, wasting millions of taxpayer dollars on a meaningless fishing expedition,” Prince said, referring to California Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the committee.

Prince appeared without a lawyer because he didn’t need one, and he has not been contacted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, he said.

Dmitriev was first connected to Prince’s trip in the Seychelles earlier this week by The Intercept, which cited flight records. 

Dmitriev runs the Russia Direct Investment Fund, the state-financed sovereign wealth fund that manages foreign investments and seeks to boost the Russian economy and is under US sanctions.

After the 2016 presidential election, Dmitriev told CNN that Trump would be good for the Russian economy and that a Trump presidency “offers more opportunity for global growth.” In public interviews, Dmitriev has defended Russian President Vladimir Putin’s leadership and Russian policy toward Ukraine-related sanctions. He speaks fluent English and holds degrees from Harvard University and Stanford University. 

In a statement provided to CNN earlier in the week, RDIF insisted it does not “engage in any political activities.”

“The fund operates purely on a commercial basis, providing our co-investors with attractive and stable returns.”

Prince’s testimony is being was conducted in a closed session, but the committee plans to release a transcript of the interview.

Prince’s Seychelles meeting is one of numerous threads the congressional committees are investigating as part of their probe into Russian 2016 election meddling, as he is one of at least 12 Trump associates who had contacts with Russians during the campaign or transition. 

Prince told CNN’s Erin Burnett in August that he didn’t remember the name of the Russian businessman but that he was “some fund manager.” Prince said the meeting was solely about his personal business dealings and that the conversation “probably lasted as long as one beer.”

He denied any wrongdoing and anyone on Trump’s team asked him to take the meeting. CNN previously reported that the purpose of the meeting, held weeks before Trump’s inauguration, was to arrange a possible backchannel of communication between the Kremlin and the incoming administration.

CLARIFICATION: This story has been updated to more accurately reflect Dmitriev’s position toward Ukraine.