- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The founder of the Blackwater security firm, Erik Prince, is expected to urge Congress on Thursday to investigate suspected Obama-era spying on Trump campaign officials who met with foreign officials before the inauguration, Capitol Hill sources said.

A former U.S. Navy SEAL and the brother of Mr. Trump’s Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, Mr. Prince is scheduled to testify before the House Intelligence Committee’s probe into Russian election meddling in what staffers describe as an “open in a closed space” hearing, meaning a transcript will be released afterward.

A key focus of the interview will be a highly disputed meeting Mr. Prince conducted with a Russian representative in the Seychelles Islands in January, later portrayed as an clandestine effort to establish back-channel communications between Moscow and the incoming Trump White House.

Mr. Prince has dismissed charges it represented collusion with the Russian government and insists “the meeting had nothing to do with President Trump.” The meeting in the remote Indian Ocean archipelago nation has reportedly drawn the attention of the FBI.

He is expected to tell Capitol Hill lawmakers the more fruitful target for investigation is the alleged abuse of powers by then-Obama White House and intelligence officials who “unmasked” — or learn the redacted identities — of Trump associates swept up in U.S. surveillance operations against foreign targets, which they later leaked to the American media.

“This is an abuse of an intelligence service’s powers,” Mr. Prince recently told the Daily Caller. “It is dangerous. This is a problem for American liberty.”

The unmasking controversy has centered on former National Security Adviser Susan Rice and former U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power, both of whom made unmasking requests as the story over possible Russia-Trump collusion was building last year.

Both officials initially denied the charges until September when Ms. Rice backtracked and told the House panel that she’d actually sought the names of senior Trump officials in intelligence reports last year because of a secret visit to New York by the crown prince of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The meeting included the UAE’s crown prince, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan and former top Trump strategist Steve Bannon, the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and Michael Flynn, a top defense adviser to Mr. Trump and later, briefly, his national security adviser in the White House.

The Obama White House worried that the UAE, by not divulging the sheikh’s trip, appeared to be breaking diplomatic protocol by not notifying Washington officials of a visit, and that sparked Ms. Rice’s inquiries.

Mr. Prince’s disputed January meeting in the Seychelles, which saw him serving as an informal Trump transition adviser, was brokered by the UAE. Mr. Prince claims Obama-era officials deliberately leaked “false information” about the purpose of the meeting,

He told the New York Observer, a newspaper now run by Mr. Kushner’s brother-in-law, “We talked about the Russian business climate, where we thought oil was headed price-wise and how much he thought Russia would like to do business in America. It had nothing to do with national security, the Trump campaign, or anything else.”

Thursday’s House Intelligence panel is also slated to hear from Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who will meet with members behind closed doors.

In September, committee chairman Rep. Devin Nunes threatened to hold Mr. Sessions and FBI Director Chris Wray in contempt of Congress if they failed to respond to a subpoena for documents or testimony related to the anti-Trump dossier alleging Mr. Trump had extensive business and political relations with the Kremlin.

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