The House Intelligence Committee on Tuesday made a criminal referral to the Justice Department for Erik Prince, the billionaire founder of the private military contractor Blackwater and an ally of President Trump, accusing him of “knowingly and willfully” making false statements to Congress.
Prince’s statements “impaired the Committee’s understanding of Russia’s attempts to contact and influence the incoming Trump Administration,” Schiff wrote in his referral letter to Attorney General William P. Barr, describing six alleged instances in which Prince misled the panel about his January 2017 meeting in the Seychelles with a Russian banker tied to the Kremlin — and how much the Trump transition team knew about it.
“The evidence is so weighty that the Justice Department needs to consider this,” Schiff said during a Washington Post Live event earlier Tuesday, announcing his intention to make the referral later in the day.
Democratic lawmakers have long suspected that Prince lied to them during his November 2017 interview before the House Intelligence Commitee, when he described his Seychelles meeting with Russian financier Kirill Dmitriev as a chance encounter, instead of one organized at the behest of the incoming administration. Their suspicions hardened after they read special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s depiction of the Seychelles meeting, which differed in several key respects with Prince’s sworn testimony.
Mueller’s team also learned that Prince had been in touch with Trump’s chief strategist, Stephen K. Bannon, before the meeting and from the Seychelles, but it was unable to unearth the content those conversations, as the messages had disappeared from their devices, according to Mueller’s report.
“We know from the Mueller report that was not a chance meeting. . . . We know there were communications after he returned,” Schiff said during The Post event. “In very material ways I think the evidence strongly suggests that he willingly misled our committee, and the Justice Department needs to consider whether there’s a prosecutable case.”
The White House, the Justice Department and the Trump Organization had no immediate response to Schiff’s comments.
In a statement, a lawyer for Prince said there “is no new evidence here.” Matthew L. Schwartz said: “Erik Prince’s House testimony has been public for months, including at all times that Mr. Prince met with the Special Counsel’s Office. Mr. Prince cooperated completely with the Special Counsel’s investigation, as its report demonstrates. There is nothing new here for the Department of Justice to consider, nor is there any reason to question the Special Counsel’s decision to credit Mr. Prince and rely on him in drafting its report.”
Schiff noted Tuesday that some of the information Prince gave investigators was presented during proffer sessions. He speculated that if Prince told Mueller’s team what he knew “under the condition it not be used against him, then being able to prove” that he lied to lawmakers “might be problematic.”
At this juncture, neither the Senate nor the House intelligence committees know the details of Prince’s proffer with Mueller.
Congressional Democrats are also looking into whether White House senior adviser Jared Kushner and Donald Trump Jr. lied to them during their interviews with congressional panels.
Details in Mueller’s report have solidified many Democrats’ concerns that Trump Jr. lied to them about the details surrounding the June 2016 meeting in Trump Tower that he and others from the Trump campaign held with a Russian lawyer promising “dirt” on presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
The report also sparked new concerns that Kushner misled lawmakers about the pre-inauguration contacts his business associate, Rick Gerson, had with Dmitriev, the banker who met with Prince in the Seychelles.
But Democrats are reluctant to levy official accusations against Kushner and Trump Jr. until they are able to view the redacted information in Mueller’s report, as well as the transcripts of the special counsel’s witness interviews.
In a separate interview at The Washington Post Live event, Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) said Republicans are also considering referring some congressional witnesses to the Justice Department for possibly lying to Congress.
Meadows said the GOP is looking at two or three people. He declined to name them but suggested at least one is connected to Fusion GPS, the firm behind a controversial dossier alleging Trump had personal and financial ties to Russia.
Shane Harris contributed to this report.