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Schiff says he will send criminal referral for Erik Prince to Justice Department

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By Dartunorro Clark  with NBC News Politics
Erik Prince
Blackwater founder Erik Prince arrives for a closed meeting with members of the House Intelligence Committee on Nov. 30, 2017.   -   Copyright  Jacquelyn Martin AP file

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said Tuesday that he will make a criminal referral to the Justice Department for Blackwater founder Erik Prince, claiming that he lied to Congress.

"I do believe that there is very strong evidence that he willingly mislead the committee and made false statements to the committee, and later today we're going to make a criminal referral to the Justice Department," Schiff said at a Washington Post forum.

At issue, Schiff said, is the discrepancy between what Prince, a Trump ally and brother of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, told the then GOP-controlled House Intelligence committee in 2017 during its investigation into Russian interference during the 2016 election and what he told special counsel Robert Mueller.

Prince told the committee in November 2017 that a meeting in the Seychelles between Kirill Dmitriev, the head of Russia's sovereign wealth fund and a close associate of Russian President Vladimir Putin, was impromptu and he was not there on behalf of the incoming Trump administration.

However, Mueller's reportrevealed that in early January 2017, Prince met with George Nader, an international consultant who helped broker the outreach on behalf of Russian officials, to discuss Dmitriev. Nader told Prince that the Russians were "looking to build a link with the incoming Trump Administration," according to the report.

"I think the evidence is so weighty that the Justice Department needs to consider this," Schiff said. "We know from the Mueller report that that was not a chance meeting...We know that there were communications after he returned."

Schiff added, "He was also asked whether he was attempting to establish a back channel for the Trump transition or campaign, which he also denied and it is clear from the Mueller report that that was false and misleading. So, in very material ways, I think the evidence strongly suggests that he willingly misled our committee and the Justice Department needs to consider whether it can make a prosecutable case."

It is illegal to make false statements to Congress even if you're not under oath. A general perjury charge can carry a prison sentence of up to five years.