Mueller Exposes Erik Prince’s Lies About His Rendezvous with a Top Russian

By Erin.Banco@thedailybeast.com (Erin Banco)
Photo Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast/Getty

Erik Prince, the Trumpworld associate and founder of the private military firm Blackwater, told Congress all sorts of things about his rendezvous with a powerful Moscow financial titan.  

Many of those things weren’t true, Special Counsel Robert Mueller confirmed in his report, released on Thursday.

Prince said he didn’t know who he was meeting on his trip to a remote Indian Ocean island in January 2017, just days before the inauguration of President Trump. Not true.

Prince said the meeting with Kirill Dmitriev, the head of one of Russia’s sovereign wealth funds, the Russian Direct Investment Fund, was a chance encounter. Not true.

Prince said they talked mostly about minerals and energy. Not true.

Prince denied he was acting as a Trumpworld emissary when he met with Dmitriev. Mueller’s report seems to indicate that is also not true.

Oh, and Dmitriev’s representatives claimed in a Kremlin propaganda outlet that The Daily Beast’s reporting on his participation in the Seychelles and his conversations with Prince was some kind of “smear campaign.” The reporting matched Mueller’s report. It was true.

How this impacts Prince’s future is unclear. Prince was interviewed by the Special Counsel under a proffer agreement, according to the Mueller report. The terms of that agreement have not been made public. But during a recent interview with Al Jazeera’s Mehdi Hassan—an interview in which Prince did a fair amount of fibbing—he said that he was not worried about possible punitive action from the special counsel’s office. Lawmakers have previously asserted that they believed Prince lied to them during his testimony and have discussed the possibility of bringing Prince back in for questioning.

Prince did not comment for this story. Representatives for Dmitriev did not respond to a request for comment.

“I didn’t fly there [to the Seychelles] to meet any Russian guy,” Prince insisted during his November 2017 testimony. In an interview with CNN’s Erin Burnett, Prince added that he was “there on business meeting with Emirati officials,” adding that he did not remember the name of the “fund manager” he met on the island.

But Prince did know about Dmitriev before his meeting in the Seychelles, the Mueller report shows.

Days before the Seychelles meeting, Prince went to New York for “lunchtime and dinner meetings” with George Nader, an emissary of the UAE and, later, a witness in the Russia investigation. “Nader and Prince discussed Dmitriev,” the Mueller report said. “Nader sent Prince a link to a Wikipedia entry about Dmitriev.”

The Daily Beast has previously reported extensively on the Seychelles meeting between Dmitriev and Prince, including the details of their conversation. The Beast was the first to report on a memo that Dmitriev drafted that outlined a how the Russians perceived building a new relationship with the U.S. under a Trump administration. That memo outlined how Washington and the Kremlin could work together in fighting ISIS in Syria, building peace in Ukraine, and cooperating on investments.

Nader had assured Dmitriev that Prince wielded influence in the Trump administration, according to the Mueller report. Nader told the Special Counsel’s office that Prince had told him Trump strategist Steve Bannon was aware of the meeting in the Seychelles, the report said. “And Prince acknowledged that it was fair for Nader to think that Prince would pass information on to the Transition Team,” the report added. (Prince has previously denied that he acted as a representative of the Trump team while in the Seychelles).

There were two separate meetings in the Seychelles (though Prince said there was only one). The initial meeting lasted about 45 minutes, according to the report. And although Prince told lawmakers that the talks were mostly about minerals, oil, and gas, at least one of those conversations included an extensive discussion about U.S.-Russia relations.  

Prince sent two text messages to Bannon about the meetings while he was in the Seychelles, but Mueller’s team said in the report they could not read the messages because they were no longer on the devices when examined.

Prince also apparently met Bannon following his trip to the Seychelles to discuss the meeting he had with Dmitriev.

“Prince told the Office that he explained to Bannon that Dmitriev was the head of a Russian sovereign wealth fund and was interested in improving relations between the United States and Russia,” the report said. “Prince also believed he provided Bannon with Dmitriev's contact information.” Bannon denied to the special counsel’s office having spoken to Prince about Dmitriev or the meeting.

The Special Counsel’s office outlines in great detail the expansive list of Trumpworld figures that had contact with Russians during the campaign and into the early days of the administration. But only a few sections of the report deal with Trumpworld associates communicating with representatives of the Russian government.

Mueller’s description of Dmitriev and his interaction with Trumpworld paints the clearest picture to date of how members of the Russian government—beyond Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak’s conversations with former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn—attempted to gain inroads with the Trump administration.

According to the report, Dmitriev and the fund he ran, the Russia Direct Investment Fund, were a focal point for Mueller in part because Dmitriev was described to the office by witnesses of having a direct link to Russian President Vladimir Putin.  

“Dmitriev reported directly to Putin and frequently referred to Putin as his ’boss,’ ” the report said. (That’s something Dmitriev’s representatives vehemently denied after The Daily Beast first revealed it in October of 2018.) Dmitriev had been in touch with Nader, who had developed extensive contacts with the incoming Trump administration, before the 2016 presidential election.

“Putin wanted Dmitriev to be in charge of both the financial and the political relationship between Russia and the Gulf states, in part because Dmitriev had been educated in the West and spoke English fluently,” the report said.

Dmitriev contacted Nader in the days after Trump’s election to try and start building a relationship with the incoming administration and asked for meetings with transition team members, Nader told the special counsel’s office.

Dmitriev was also introduced to Rick Gerson, a hedge fund manager and a close friend of Jared Kushner. Gerson, though he had no formal role, assisted the transition in setting up meetings with officials. Gerson and Dmitriev met during the transition period, according to the report, and Dmitriev told Gerson that Putin had asked him  “to develop and execute a reconciliation plan between the United States and Russia,” the report said.

According to Mueller’s team, that plan was memorialized in a memo, as first reported by The Daily Beast, following Dmitriev’s meeting Prince in the Seychelles. Gerson sent it on to Kushner who then passed it on to then Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Bannon.

“Mr. Gerson told the Special Counsel all that he knew about everything related to their [RDIF’s] work and all of that appears in this report,” a spokesperson for Gerson said. “As previously stated, neither Mr. Gerson nor his firm engaged in any business with the RDIF.”

Gerson later told Dmitriev that the memo had played “an important role” in a call between President Trump and President Putin on January 28, 2017.

RDIF has repeatedly pushed back against The Daily Beast’s reporting on Dmitriev, RDIF and the Seychelles, calling the outlet’s reporting a “smear campaign” in an article by Sputnik, a Russian state-owned outlet.

It is unclear if Dmitriev or his fund are still in intimate contact with the administration. The RDIF is currently subject to sectoral sanctions by the U.S. Treasury. Since his Seychelles meeting, Prince has spent time peddling a plan for the war in Afghanistan to Trump administration officials. There’s no evidence to suggest that plan has moved forward.

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