House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., formally referred Blackwater founder Erik Prince to the Justice Department for a criminal investigation over whether Prince lied to the panel about a 2016 meeting in the Seychelles islands with a Russian banker tied to Vladimir Putin.
In a statement, the committee said it had “identified at least six categories of materially false statements” Prince made about the meeting with Kirill Dmitriev when he appeared before the committee in November 2017.
In a letter to Attorney General William Barr, Schiff said Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report on allegations of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian officials “strongly indicates that Erik Prince knowingly and willfully provided materially false testimony,” which Schiff argued “hindered the Committee’s ability to fully understand and examine foreign efforts to undermine our political process and national security, develop appropriate legislative and policy remedies to counter future malign influence operations targeting campaigns and presidential transitions, and inform the American public, as appropriate.”
“I do believe that there is very strong evidence that he willingly misled the committee and willingly made false statements to the committee,” Schiff told The Washington Post’s Bob Costa during a panel event earlier Tuesday.
“The evidence is so weighty that the Justice Department needs to consider this. His testimony, which I can discuss because it is public record, was that his meeting in Seychelles with this Russian banker [Dmitriev] was purely by chance. He just happened to go to Seychelles for about a day and have a chance meeting with the Russian banker.”
Prince, the founder of the private military contractor Blackwater, and the brother of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, testified in 2017 that the meeting with the Russian banker was a chance encounter. Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report revealed that the meeting was set up ahead of time.
“We know from the Mueller report that this was not a chance meeting,” Schiff said Tuesday. “We know there were communications after he returned.”
Schiff added that Prince had “discussions” with former White House adviser Steve Bannon about the meeting before he left, and “communications” after he returned from the meeting, a claim the lawmaker said was contradicted by the Mueller report.
“Somehow, mysteriously, magically, the communications between Prince and Bannon have apparently fled their devices,” Schiff said. “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.”
Schiff added that when Bannon appeared before his committee, he “refused to answer almost all of our questions.”
“He said he was not answering questions because the White House asked him not to,” Schiff said.
Schiff was also asked whether his panel felt that President Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., or his son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner gave false testimony.
“I don’t want to comment on any others. We have reached the point of ripeness with Prince’s testimony that we feel it appropriate to refer it,” Schiff said. “I don’t want to comment on any others.”
Schiff’s comments come in the midst of a heated battle between Congress and the White House over subpoenas for former and current officials to testify before House committees leading sweeping Trump-focused probes. Schiff’s panel is currently investigating the president’s finances.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.