Special counsel Robert Muellers team has spoken with Blackwater founder Erik Prince, two sources familiar with the matter tell The Daily Beast. It was not immediately clear what questions Muellers team had or what information Prince shared with the special counsel.
Prince attended a now-controversial meeting with the head of Russias sovereign wealth fund in the Seychelles on Jan. 11, 2017just over a week before Inauguration Day. The Washington Post reported that Mueller is interested in potential efforts at the Seychelles meeting to set up a backchannel between the Trump administration and the Kremlin.
A spokesman for the special counsel declined to comment.
Reached for comment, Prince spokesperson Marc Cohen did not dispute this reporting.
Erik gave a full and frank public account of events as they concern him to the intelligence committee and he has nothing else to add on this topic, Cohen said.
As Cohen noted, this isnt the first time Prince has faced questions related to potential coordination between President Donald Trumps campaign and the Kremlin. On Nov. 30, 2017, he spoke at length with the House intelligence committee about the campaign (PDF). The committee released the transcript of Princes interview, where he described his conversation with Russian Direct Investment Fund head Kirill Dmitriev. Prince told the committee that they discussed trade and terrorism.
I met him at a hotel bar, and we chatted on topics ranging from oil and commodity prices to how much his country wished for resumption of normal trade relations with therelationship with the USA, Prince told the committee. I remember telling him if Franklin Roosevelt could work with Josef Stalin to defeat Nazi fascism, then certainly Donald Trump could work with Vladimir Putin to defeat Islamic fascism.
The meeting ended after a maximum of 30 minutes, Prince continued. Ive had no communications or dealings with him or any of his colleagues before or after that encounter last January. Thats really all there is to say about that meeting.
What Prince didnt note was that Lebanese-American businessman George Nader also attended the meeting, according to the Post. The paper reported that Nader is now cooperating with the special counsel probe, and has met with investigators numerous times.
The Post reported last April that the meetings organizers were interested in discussing Persian Gulf politics.
Though the full agenda remains unclear, the UAE agreed to broker the meeting in part to explore whether Russia could be persuaded to curtail its relationship with Iran, including in Syria, a Trump administration objective that would be likely to require major concessions to Moscow on U.S. sanctions, the paper reported.
Prince is well-connected in Trump World. He donated $250,000 to pro-Trump efforts during the campaign, and his sister, Betsy DeVos, is Trumps education secretary. Prince pushed hardand unsuccessfullyfor the administration to change its Afghanistan War strategy to rely on military contracting companiesthe kind of firms that have made him a fortune. Prince is also close with former White House adviser Steve Bannon and has made numerous appearances on Breitbarts radio show. But those relationships have not always resulted in Prince getting what he wants. Blackwater insiders have lambasted Attorney General Jeff Sessions to The Daily Beast (calling him a big, giant wussy) for the continued legal targeting of a Blackwater contractor over the killing of civilians in Iraq.
Prince also isnt the only high-powered businessman in Muellers crosshairs. The New York Times reported last week that Muellers team has questioned Viktor Vekselberg, a Russian oligarch. Michael Avenatti, the lawyer for porn star Stormy Daniels, revealed on Tuesday that Trumps lawyer, Michael Cohen, received a payment from a Vekselberg-linked company in the wake of the campaign. The Daily Beast confirmed Avenattis charge. And the AP reported that Mueller has also questioned Tom Barrack, a billionaire businessman who is close friends with the president.