The House Intelligence Committee on Wednesday released a transcript of Erik Prince's November 30 testimony in which said that the Obama administration had kept him under surveillance. He told the committee: “that’s illegal.” Prince, who is brother to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and the former chief of Blackwater USA, referred during his testimony to a business trip he took to the Indian Ocean country of Seychelles where he participated in a summit with United Arab Emirates business partners.

It was at the meeting during the closing days of the Obama administration on Jan. 11, 2017, that he met Russian fund manager, Kirill Dmitriev, with whom he had an unscheduled 30-minute discussion at a bar. Several individuals associated with candidate and later president Donald Trump have been subjected to surveillance. The Washington Post published a story in April about Prince’s trip. Prince, a former Navy SEAL testified at the November 30 hearing, “What really bothers me and what I would hope the intelligence committee is doing is question why Americans that were caught up in the waves of signals intelligence, why on Earth would The Washington Post be running an article on any meeting that a private citizen, me, was having in a foreign country?” 

Prince said, “That’s illegal. That is a political abuse of the intelligence infrastructure. And that is really dangerous, especially as this committee and the Congress thinks about reauthorizing very wide-ranging intelligence authorities to dig into private Americans electronic communications of any sort.”

Obama's leak to the media

Prince said he was informed that a member of Barack Obama’s national security council leaked the story to the newspaper. On Wednesday, the Washington Times reported that Obama’s national security aides made concerted efforts, privately and publicly, to damage Trump as candidate, president-elect, and president.

In July 2016, the Obama administration initiated a counterintelligence investigation into the Trump campaign. In part, the FBI based it on a discredited dossier paid for by the Democratic Party and an anti-Trump Republican that is filled with salacious allegations against Trump and his associates. 

Prince has said that his limited role in the Trump campaign was unofficial. The Washington Post story reported in April that Trump’s organization sent Prince as an emissary to meet the Russian Dmitriev in the Seychelles islands to formulate a backdoor channel to Russian officials for the Trump administration. Prince has denied the Washington Post story. Prince said he was introduced to Dmitriev by friends from the United Arab Emirates. Among them was UAE Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, who met at the hotel to discuss business. Prince said that the Obama administration had discourage the UAE party from doing business with Prince. 

Roosevelt and Stalin, Trump and Putin

Of Dmitiriev, Prince said that during their meeting they discussed oil and commodity prices, as well as trade between Russia and the United States. He testified that they also talked about “how the United States and Russia should be working together to defeat Islamic terrorism,” according to Prince. “I remember telling him that if Franklin Roosevelt could work with Joseph Stalin to defeat fascism, certainly the United States could work with Vladimir Putin to defeat Islamic fascism.”

Dmitriev is the head of the Russian Direct Investment Fund, which since 2015 has been subject to U.S. sanctions. Prince said they did not discuss the sanctions, but he recalled Dmitriev saying “how much he wished trade would resume with the United States in a normal way.” The meeting apparently lasted less than 30 minutes. 

In questioning, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) tried to determine whether Prince was a Trump emissary. Prince said that his talks with the UAE delegation were on business and counter-terrorism efforts in Africa and the Middle East. “Did you discuss having any channel of communication between the United States and Russia?” Schiff asked. “No,” Mr. Prince said.

Prince said that the Obama administration probably “unmasked” his identity from intelligence reports and leaked it to the Washington Post. The report injured his relations with parties in the UAE, he said. He asked Schiff, “What are you doing to prevent the illicit use of the intelligence apparatus by a political party, particular the previous one that did that to me?”

Intelligence community digs into Americans' lives

“I’m really bothered by that and any American should be, particularly as Congress votes to re-authorize significant ability for the intelligence community to dig into our lives, whether you’re a private citizen or not, from all the electronics that you do.”

Prince said he went to the hotel bar and used his phone to find a picture of the man. They met and discussed oil and commodity prices and trade between Russia and the United States, he testified. They also talked about “how the United States and Russia should be working together to defeat Islamic terrorism,” according to Prince. “I remember telling him that if Franklin Roosevelt could work with Joseph Stalin to defeat fascism, certainly the United States could work with Vladimir Putin to defeat Islamic fascism.”

Dmitriev is the head of the Russian Direct Investment Fund, a sovereign wealth fund that since 2015 has been subject to U.S. sanctions. Prince said they did not discuss the sanctions, but he recalled Dmitriev saying “how much he wished trade would resume with the United States in a normal way.” The meeting apparently lasted less than 30 minutes, enough time for Prince to drink one beer.

Millions spent on Democrat 'fishing expedition'

Prince apeared to grow frustrated at various times with the questions. At one point, he said, “Now listen. It’s 5:30. I haven’t been home in a week. I flew in this morning from Africa, and I’ve had about enough of this. So thank you.”

Schiff, the Democratic ranking member, told Prince that if he did not cooperate, the committee would issue a subpoena to compel him to return. Prince told the committee to focus instead on who in the intelligence community leaked the details of his meeting to the Washington Post. Upon leaving the hearing, Prince told the media that Schiff should apologize for “wasting all of our time, for wasting millions of taxpayer dollars on a meaningless fishing expedition.”



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Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat and the editor of Spero News.

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