House Democrats could ask the Department of Justice to prosecute Blackwater founder Erik Prince on charges he misled Congress about his relationship with the Trump campaign, amid new reports about foreign efforts to influence the campaign, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said Monday In an interview with ABC News.
Schiff said Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee are weighing whether to send criminal referrals to the Justice Department for several witnesses they believe lied in testimony in the panel’s Russia investigation.
“We are in the process of doing our research into how we ought to handle the situation when we’re concerned people testified falsely to the committee,” Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said in an interview to ABC News, adding that criminal referrals could “potentially” be one way Democrats handle the issue.
Prince arranged and attended an August 2016 meeting at Trump Tower with Donald Trump Jr., an adviser to the crown princes of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, and an Israeli social media specialist who had an offer to help the Trump campaign, according to a New York Times report confirmed by ABC News.
Two sources familiar with the meeting told ABC News that Prince arranged the Trump Tower huddle just weeks before Election Day. A spokesman for Prince, who is Education Secretary Betsy DeVos' brother. declined to comment on the meeting.
Prince, speaking to the committee behind closed doors in November of 2017, told lawmakers he had only met Trump Jr. "at a campaign event" during the election, and “played no official, or, really, unofficial role” with the Trump campaign, according to a transcript released by the committee.
“If the allegations are true that there was this second Trump Tower meeting that Erik Prince participated in, then clearly he wasn’t forthcoming with our committee,” Schiff said.
Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Texas, who led the House Intelligence Committee’s Russia investigation, declined to comment on questions about Prince’s testimony and said he wasn’t familiar with reports of the August 2016 Trump Tower meeting.
This isn't the first time Prince's testimony to Congress has been questioned: Previously, special counsel Robert Mueller obtained evidence that Prince's January 2017 meeting with a Russian financier in the Seychelles was more than the casual encounter over drinks he described to lawmakers, sources told ABC News.
Prince told congressional investigators he didn’t travel to the Seychelles “to meet any Russian guy” and testified that his trip was there for a meeting with officials from the United Arab Emirates about future business opportunities.
George Nader, a well-connected Lebanese-American businessman, has told Mueller’s investigators that he set up Prince’s meeting with Kiril Dmitriev, the CEO of Russia’s sovereign wealth fund, and briefed Prince on Dmitriev in New York City before Prince traveled to Africa for the meeting, sources familiar with the investigation said.
“If the previous allegations that George Nader set up the meeting in the Seychelles for the purpose of Prince meeting with this Russian banker, if those allegations are true then clearly Prince testified falsely before our committee,” Schiff said.
Republicans have already issued criminal referrals to DOJ for Hillary Clinton, former FBI Director James Comey and former British spy Christopher Steele, among others associated with the presidential campaign and Russia probe.
Even if Democrats decide to ask DOJ to prosecute witnesses -- lying to Congress is a federal crime that comes with up to five years in prison -- the department isn’t required to take up a referral. Anyone can make a criminal referral, but the decision to launch an investigation still rests with federal prosecutors.
Clemens, who was charged with lying to lawmakers in 2008 for claiming he never used performance-enhancing drugs, was acquitted four years later of all charges. Poindexter’s conviction for lying to Congress about elements of the Iran-Contra scandal was overturned by a federal appeals court.