According to an explosive new report, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos's brother Erik Prince met with a confidante of Putin to establish a backchannel with Russia on behalf of the Trump team. But who is Erik Prince? The infamous founder of the mercenary-for-hire group Blackwater.
Erik Prince served as an "informal" intermediary between Donald Trump's team and the royal family of the United Arab Emirates to set up a secret meeting with a confidante of Russian President Vladimir Putin, according to recent revelations by the Washington Post.
Prince, a former Navy SEAL and White House intern under President George H. W. Bush, is best known for founding a company called Blackwater in 1997. Between 2001 and 2007, Blackwater was paid over $1 billion by the United States government for unspecified "private security" in Afghanistan and Iraq. Such services were made possible by President George W. Bush, after 9/11, when he granted the CIA the power to create a top secret assassination unit that outsourced to private companies — including Prince's Blackwater — the abduction, torture, and murder of perceived al Qaeda operatives. The CIA and members of the military were removed from direct participation in the most violent operations of the United States war efforts and theoretically shielded from legal ramifications. And Prince and his company made a handsome profit.
Horror stories of Blackwater personnel's behavior in Afghanistan and Iraq abounded, and, in 2007, they killed 17 civilians and injured 20 more in the Nisour Square massacre in Baghdad, firing machine guns and grenade launchers from within their armored personnel carrier into an unarmed crowd of civilians at a traffic junction. Following that incident, Prince fled the U.S. pending legal actions, rebranded the company, sold his stake in it, and began maintaining a lower profile.
During the 2016 election, billionaire Prince and his sister, Betsy DeVos, and her husband were avid supporters of the Republican Party and Donald Trump's candidacy, contributing $100 million to GOP campaigns and super PACs. After Trump won the election, DeVos was rewarded with a cabinet position as Secretary of Education for her loyalty and is implementing the Trump administration's efforts to dismantle the public education system.
This is the same Erik Prince reportedly tasked by the Trump team, in an unofficial capacity, to set up back channel communications with the highest levels of the Russian government.
According to the Washington Post, Prince visited the Trump team's transition offices in December of 2016. Both his spokesperson and White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer have denied Prince held any official role on the transition team. However, with his close ties to Steve Bannon, the the royal family of Abu Dhabi, and experience with covert operations, Prince was ideally placed within the Trump network to secretly set up potential communications with Russia. Crown Prince Zayed, who had met publicly twice with Putin in 2016, also reportedly made a previously undisclosed visit to New York that December to meet with Michael Flynn and Jared Kushner.
According to the Washington Post:
"Officials said Zayed and his brother, the UAE’s national security adviser, coordinated the Seychelles meeting with Russian government officials with the goal of establishing an unofficial back channel between Trump and Putin.
"Officials said Zayed wanted to be helpful to both leaders who had talked about working more closely together, a policy objective long advocated by the crown prince. The UAE, which sees Iran as one of its main enemies, also shared the Trump team’s interest in finding ways to drive a wedge between Moscow and Tehran. [...]
"At the time of the Seychelles meeting and for weeks afterward, the UAE believed that Prince had the blessing of the new administration to act as its unofficial representative. The Russian participant was a person whom Zayed knew was close to Putin from his interactions with both men, the officials said. [...]
"Though Prince had no formal role with the Trump campaign or transition team, he presented himself as an unofficial envoy for Trump to high-ranking Emiratis involved in setting up his meeting with the Putin confidant, according to the officials, who did not identify the Russian."
Held somewhere in the remote Seychelles islands off the coast of the UAE in the Indian Ocean, the meetings between this high level Trump donor and likely informal advisor took place starting on January 11, 2017, and lasted two days.
That's right: Prince met secretly on Trump's behalf with a Putin confidante toward "the goal of establishing an unofficial back channel between Trump and Putin" only nine days before Trump's inauguration as president of the United States. This story is the latest to raise even more questions about the relationship between Trump and Putin and just how deeply involved they were before Trump was sworn into office.