Erik Prince, the one-time Blackwater USA chief who had a remote role in the Donald Trump campaign, told the House Intelligence Committee that the Barrack Obama administration had him under surveillance and “that’s illegal.”
The committee on Wednesday released a transcript of Mr. Prince’s Nov. 30 testimony in which he talked about a business trip to the Indian Ocean country of Seychelles to hold a summit with United Arab Emirates business partners.
At the Jan. 11, 2017, meeting, he said he was introduced to a Russian fund manger, Kirill Dmitriev, with whom he had an unscheduled 30-minute discussion at a bar.
Any person connected with Mr. Trump who has met with a Russian is susceptible to investigation.
He expressed dismay that Democrats want to investigate a private citizen meeting well after the election, if the purpose of the inquiry has been supposed Russian-Trump election collusion.
The Washington Post ran a story about his trip last April.
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“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?” the former Navy SEAL testified.
“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.”
He said he was told that an Obama national security council staffer leaked the story to The Post.
The Washington Times reported on Wednesday about Obama national security aides making long, concerted efforts in public and private to damage President Trump as candidate, president-elect and president.
Mr. Prince was surveilled in the closing days of the Obama administration.
The administration opened a counter-intelligence investigation into the Trump campaign in July 2016. The FBI based it in part on a Democratic Party-funded dossier filled with unproven allegations against Trump and his people.
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Mr. Prince said he had an unofficial limited role in the campaign. He submitted a few policy papers to adviser Stephen K. Bannon. He met Mr. Trump briefly at a fundraiser photo-op.
He is the brother of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.
Mr. Prince sold his Blackwater USA security firm, which was relied on greatly by the military and diplomats overseas. He is now a global businessman and private equity firm member.
There have been media reports he proposed a private spy service for the U.S. government. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said there is no such proposal being weighed.
The April Washington Post story said that Trump people sent Mr. Prince to the Seychelles islands to meet Mr. Dmitriev and set up a backdoor channel to Moscow for the new administration.
Mr. Prince flatly denied the Post story. He said there was no planned meeting. He said he was introduced to the Russian by his UAE friends. The delegation included Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, whom Mr. Prince met at the hotel to discuss possible future business.
Mr. Zayed the previous month had met with Trump transition officials in New York.
Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the committee’s ranking Democrat, questioned Mr. Prince with a goal of showing he was, in fact, a Trump emissary.
When Mr. Schiff asked him to name the hotel, Mr. Prince said, “I think your friends at the Washington Post reported it as the Four Seasons but I don’t even remember if that was the place.”
He said the Obama administration had discouraged the UAE from doing business with him.
He said his discussions with the delegation focused on commerce and counter-terrorism in the Middle East and Africa, places he visits frequently.
“Did you discuss having any channel of communication between the United States and Russia?” Mr. Schiff asked
“No,” Mr. Prince said.
He added, “Congressman, Erik Prince, a private citizen, traveled to the Seychelles to meet with some Emirati people that he’d known for a few years. And while there, they said, ‘Oh, there is this Russian guy that’s also here to see us. Might be useful for you to meet him.’ And like I said, I met him for a maximum of 30 minutes, probably much less than that because it doesn’t take me that long to drink a beer in a bar.”
Mr. Prince said the Obama administration must have “unmasked” his name from intelligence reports and leak it to the Post. He said the Post story soured his relations with the UAE.
“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,” he asked Mr. Schiff.
“I’m really bothered by that and any American should be, particularly as Congress votes to reauthorize 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.”
Mr. Prince said former intelligence officials have told him the Obama administration knew he traveled to Seychelles from communication intercepts.
• Rowan Scarborough can be reached at email@example.com.
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