As part of his probe of possible collusion between Donald Trump's presidential campaign and the Russian government, Special Counsel Robert Mueller has obtained and is currently examining the phones and computer of notorious war profiteer and Blackwater founder Erik Prince, ABC News reported on Monday.
Citing multiple anonymous sources familiar with the matter, ABC's James Gordon Meek noted that Mueller is reviewing Prince's communications in an effort to determine whether he attempted "to establish a backchannel between the Trump administration and the Kremlin."
In a statement to ABC, Prince's spokesperson confirmed that Prince has given Mueller "total access to his phones and computer."
News that Mueller is intensifying his investigation of Prince—who is the brother of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos—comes as reporting over the past several months has seriously called into question testimony the billionaire military contractor gave to the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence last November.
As Meek wrote on Monday:
Prince testified before the U.S. House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence in November that he hadn’t made the trip "to meet any Russian guy" and described his meeting with Kirill Dmitriev, the Putin-appointed head of Russia's sovereign wealth fund, as a chance encounter "over a beer."
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ABC News reported earlier this year that Mueller has obtained evidence that calls that testimony into question. Lebanese-American businessman George Nader, a key witness given limited immunity by Mueller, told investigators that he set up the meeting in the Seychelles between Prince and Dmitriev, sources familiar with the investigation told ABC News.
Speaking anonymously with ABC, two of Prince's business associates said he lied to Congress about his relationship with Dimitriy Streshinskiy, a former Russian special forces soldier-turned-arms manufacturer. Prince told the House he has had "zero" business relationships with Russian nationals.
"According to a 2015 interim report from an internal investigation conducted for the company by an outside law firm, a man named 'Dimitry,' whom two sources later told ABC News was actually Streshinskiy, acted as Prince's partner in an effort to secure a possibly illegal private security contract with Azerbaijan," Meek reported on Monday.
After donating more than $200,000 to Trump's 2016 presidential campaign, Prince has been advising the White House "from the shadows" and occasionally offering up plans to privatize America's military operations overseas.
As Common Dreams reported last August, Prince—whose private security firm Blackwater was behind the massacre of more than a dozen Iraqi civilians in 2007—proposed turning America's war in Afghanistan over to a private "band of experienced sergeants."