Trump backer Erik Prince's account of Russian banker contact differs from Mueller report

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Erik Prince, founder of the now defunct Blackwater security firm and a supporter of Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential run, appears to have misled the U.S. Congress on details of contact he had with a Russian banker in January 2017, Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report released on Thursday shows.

The report’s detailing of an encounter Prince had in the Seychelles with Kirill Dmitriev, head of Russia’s sovereign wealth fund who reports directly to Russian President Vladimir Putin, contained discrepancies with testimony that Prince gave in November 2017 to the U.S. House of Representatives Intelligence Committee.

Marc Cohen, a spokesman for Prince, declined to comment on the Mueller report. “Erik has said all there is to say on this,” Cohen said. A spokesman for the committee declined to comment on the discrepancies. Perjury before Congress is a crime punishable by up to five years in prison and a possible fine.

The most glaring differences in the two accounts involved how Prince and Dmitriev came to meet at the Four Seasons Hotel in the Seychelles on Jan. 11, 2017, and how many times they spoke.

Prince told lawmakers that it was a scheduler of Crown Prince Mohammad bin Zayed of the United Arab Emirates who invited him to the Seychelles to discuss possible business deals, according to a transcript of his testimony.

Dmitriev, Prince recounted, happened to be at the hotel for talks with a member of Zayed’s delegation. One of Zayed’s brothers mentioned that the Russian banker was at the bar and suggested that Prince see him, according to the transcript.

Prince told the committee that he spoke to Dmitriev at the bar for only about 20 minutes “over a beer.”

“It’s not like I was at a meeting and they invited this Russian guy to the meeting,” Prince told the committee.

Mueller’s account differed markedly from Prince’s testimony.

His report said that George Nader, an adviser to Zayed, arranged for them to meet after Dmitriev sought an introduction to a Trump transition team member in order to begin improving U.S.-Russia ties. Prince was not part of the team, but was close to senior members.

The pair met not once, as Prince told lawmakers, but twice on Jan. 11, 2017, after arriving at the Four Seasons. The first session in Nader’s villa lasted 30-40 minutes, the report said.

The second meeting took place in the hotel restaurant with Nader present.

Mueller’s account, large parts of which are redacted, was based on interviews with Prince and Nader, as well as text messages and grand jury material, footnotes showed.

Prince, a U.S. Navy SEAL-turned-businessman whose sister Betsy DeVos became Trump’s education secretary, was a major donor to Trump’s campaign.

The report revealed that Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 U.S. election campaign and any possible coordination between Trump campaign members and Moscow, spawned 14 criminal probes. But only two were made public in the report because they are active investigations that Mueller farmed out to other U.S. prosecutors.

Reporting by Jonathan Landay and Aram Roston; Editing by Mary Milliken and Grant McCool