By Lauren McCauley
Common Dreams (4/4/17)
The scandal surrounding President Donald Trump’s alleged ties to Russia thickened a bit Monday after the Washington Post reported that “notorious mercenary” Erik Prince took part in a clandestine meeting with a confidant of Russian President Vladimir Putin “as part of an apparent effort to establish a back-channel line of communication” between Moscow and the White House.
U.S., European, and Arab officials confirmed to the Post that the United Arab Emirates brokered the January 11 tête-à-tête between the unidentified Russian and Prince, brother of Trump’s Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos who founded the private security firm Blackwater—which rose to infamy after the 2007 Nisour Square massacre of 17 Iraqi civilians.
“Though the full agenda remains unclear, the UAE agreed to broker the meeting in part to explore whether Russia could be persuaded to curtail its relationship with Iran, including in Syria, a Trump administration objective that would be likely to require major concessions to Moscow on U.S. sanctions,” reported Adam Entous, Greg Miller, Kevin Sieff, and Karen DeYoung. The talks reportedly took part in the Seychelles islands over the course of two days.
Had been advising the Trump transition team “from the shadows…on matters related to intelligence and defense.”
Investigative reporter and Intercept founding editor Jeremy Scahill, who has long-documented Prince’s career as well as his ties to the UAE, reported back in March 2016 that Prince was under federal investigation for money laundering and “attempting to broker military services to foreign governments.”
And less than a week after the alleged Seychelles meeting, Scahill also revealed that Prince—who “has a close relationship with Breitbart News and Steve Bannon”—had been advising the Trump transition team “from the shadows…on matters related to intelligence and defense.”
Placing the Seychelles meeting in the context of a series of suspicious encounters, the Postcontinues:
The Seychelles meeting came after separate private discussions in New York involving high-ranking representatives of Trump with both Moscow and the Emirates.
The White House has acknowledged that Michael T. Flynn, Trump’s original national security adviser, and Trump adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner met with the Russian ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak, in late November or early December in New York.
Flynn and Kushner were joined by Bannon for a separate meeting with the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, who made an undisclosed visit to New York later in December, according to the U.S., European and Arab officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive matters.
Responding to the report, White House press secretary Sean Spicer denied any awareness of the Seychelles meeting and said that Prince “had no role in the transition.” Similarly, a Prince spokesperson called the story a “complete fabrication,” saying that the encounter “had nothing to do with President Trump,” adding: “Why is the so-called under-resourced intelligence community messing around with surveillance of American citizens when they should be hunting terrorists?”
But, as the Post notes, at the time of the Seychelles meeting, the FBI was already investigating communications between Russian representatives and members of the Trump team, namely Flynn and Russian ambassador Kislyak.
The Post story was published the same day that Trump and his supporters were up in arms over a report that former national security adviser Susan Rice had “unmasked” the names of some Trump associates who communicated with monitored foreign officials, an activity that was said to be “within the law.”
On Tuesday, Rice addressed the accusation that the Obama administration “utilized intelligence for political purposes,” telling MSNBC‘s Andrea Mitchell, “That’s absolutely false.”
‘Christian’ Extremist Blackwater Founder Erik Prince, the Brother of Betsy DeVos, Is Secretly Advising Trump
Democracy Now! (1/18/17)
The Intercept’s Jeremy Scahill has revealed Betsy DeVos’s brother, Erik Prince, the founder of the mercenary firm Blackwater, has been quietly advising Trump’s transition team, including helping vet Cabinet picks. On election night, Prince’s wife, Stacy DeLuke, even posted pictures from inside Trump’s campaign headquarters. We speak to Scahill about his latest piece, “Notorious Mercenary Erik Prince Is Advising Trump from the Shadows.”
Blackwater’s Prince Has GOP, Christian Group Ties
By Corey Flintoff
With more than $800 million in contracts, Blackwater USA, led by Erik Prince, is among the biggest companies providing armed guards for U.S. officials and government contractors in Iraq.
Prince, the heir to a Michigan auto-parts fortune, has close ties to the Republican Party and conservative Christian groups. He began his career with a stint as an officer in the U.S. Navy SEALs, and co-founded Blackwater in 1997 with other former commandos. His family’s wealth made it possible for the then 27-year-old Prince to fund the Blackwater start-up with his own money.
Prince and his firm have drawn scrutiny from members of Congress after Blackwater guards were accused of opening fire on civilians in Baghdad in an incident that left at least nine people dead.
Blackwater has said that its employees were defending a State Department convoy and denied that they had done anything improper, though Prince has made no public statement on the issue. The Iraqi government threatened to expel the company from the country, but after four days, Blackwater was allowed to resume its activities guarding State Department personnel.
Republican, Christian Ties
Prince grew up in Holland, Mich., where his father, Edgar Prince, built Prince Corporation, an auto-parts company that based its success on novel products, such as the lighted vanity mirror for car window visors. The elder Prince was a close friend and supporter of Christian evangelists, such as James Dobson of Focus on the Family, as well as a contributor to the Republican Party. He was an early benefactor of the Family Research Council.
Erik Prince was accepted to the U.S. Naval Academy, but dropped out after three semesters. He later told the Virginia-Pilot newspaper that he loved the Navy but disliked the academy. He finished his schooling at the Christian-oriented Hillsdale College in Michigan.
Prince later rejoined the Navy through Officer Candidate School and qualified for the SEALs. He served about three years, but left the service early after his father’s death in 1995. The family sold the business shortly afterward to Johnson Controls for more than $1.3 billion.
Prince has rarely given interviews to the news media. In an email question-and-answer exchange with the Virginia- Pilot in 2006, he wrote that his Navy experience convinced him of the need for a company that could provide advanced training to military personnel and civilian contractors.
The organization rapidly grew into nine companies, providing everything from bomb-sniffing dogs to drone reconnaissance aircraft. …