Erik Prince’s Russian contacts highlighted in Mueller report

Donald Trump (left) and Erik Prince (right)

Michigan native Erik Prince factors heavily into the now-released report by Special Counsel Robert Mueller into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

Prince is a Holland native whose sister, Betsy DeVos, is currently the U.S. secretary of education under President Donald Trump. Prince also founded the infamous private military firm Blackwater.

Betsy DeVos | Gage Skidmore, Flickr

Prince sold his stake in the company years ago and it now operates as Academi. The company rose to prominence, however, during the Iraq war. Contractors with the company were convicted of shooting Iraqi citizens.

As previously reported by the Washington Post, the redacted version of Mueller’s report released Thursday states that Prince was part of a clandestine meeting just before Trump took office in January 2017 with Kirill Dmitriev, a Russian banker who reports “directly” to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Also involved in the meeting, which took place at a luxury hotel in the Indian Ocean archipelago of the Seychelles, was George Nader, a Lebanese-American businessman, a consultant for the United Arab Emirates and convicted pedophile.

Details of the meetings between Prince, Nader and Dmitriev are outlined in a lengthy section of the report, which includes several redactions.

According to Mueller, the purpose of the meeting was to establish a backchannel between the Russian government and incoming administration officials. Throughout the section, Prince is highlighted and described as someone who “did not have a formal role in the campaign, although he offered to host a fundraiser for Trump and sent unsolicited policy papers on issues such as foreign policy, trade and Russian election interference to [former Trump adviser Steve] Bannon.”

Seychelles | Creative Commons

The report also describes Prince as an associate of several others in Trump’s orbit, including his son, Donald Trump Jr., and longtime adviser Roger Stone.

Donald Trump Jr. at the rally in Grand Rapids, March 28, 2019 | Nick Manes

Despite Prince’s close ties with various Trump associates, Dmitriev was skeptical about whether a meeting with him would be useful, according to Mueller. Nader sought to reassure him by noting that Prince’s sister, DeVos, had recently been appointed to Trump’s cabinet as Education secretary. He also played up Prince’s relationship with Bannon. According to the report, Dmitriev hoped to meet with someone closer to the administration.

“[Prince] is designated by Steve [Bannon] to meet you!” Nader wrote to Dmitriev in advance of meeting in the Seychelles.

The report, however, says that Bannon denied any knowledge of the meeting and stated that if he did have knowledge, he “would have objected to such a meeting having taken place.”  

Steve Bannon speaks at Cobo, March 14, 2019 | Ken Coleman

The report does not make a clear determination regarding whether Trump transition officials directly instructed Prince to meet with Dmitriev. According to the report, Prince was at Trump Tower in New York City on Jan. 4, 2017, meeting with numerous officials from the incoming Trump administration when he opened emailed attachments about Dmitriev. The report placed him there using location data from Prince’s mobile phone.

“Prince says that he could not recall whether, during those three hours [at Trump Tower], he met with Bannon and discussed Dmitriev with him,” the report says.

What the report does make clear is that the spy movie-like meetings failed to yield much, either for the incoming Trump administration or for Mueller’s investigation.

The report notes that Bannon and Prince had text message conversations around the time of the Seychelles meetings, but those messages could not be obtained by Mueller’s office. It’s unclear whether the messages were intentionally deleted.

Erik Prince

Moreover, the report describes Dmitriev as “disappointed in his meetings with Prince for two reasons: first, he believed the Russians needed to be communicating with someone who had more authority within the incoming Administration than Prince had. Second, he had hoped to have a discussion of greater substance, such as outlining a strategic roadmap for both countries to follow.”

Democrats said that Prince’s interactions underscore the need for the public to see the full report.

“The fact Erik Prince, warlord-for-hire and brother of Betsy DeVos, played a direct role as a liaison between Trump’s team and Russia proves how deeply the tentacles stretch in this attack on our democracy,” said Michigan Democratic Party spokesman Paul Kanan. “This new information is just the tip of the iceberg but how deep this betrayal of our democracy runs we will only know for sure by seeing Robert Mueller’s full, unredacted report.”

But the heavily redacted release of the report on Thursday — almost two years in the making — did make for an opportunity for a victory lap from Trump’s re-election campaign.

“President Trump has been fully and completely exonerated yet again,” Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale said in a statement. “Now the tables have turned, and it’s time to investigate the liars who instigated this sham investigation into President Trump, motivated by political retribution and based on no evidence whatsoever.”  

Tim Walberg

U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg (R-Tipton) agreed that the edited report was good news for the president.

“The bottom line of Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation has already been known for weeks: There was no collusion with Russia,” he wrote on Twitter.

U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Flint), however, is among a chorus of Democrats saying that Trump is far from exonerated.

“The Special Counsel’s report outlines, in painstaking detail, evidence that the Russian government interfered ‘in sweeping and systematic fashion’ in the 2016 election,” Kildee said in a statement on Thursday.

“In addition, the Special Counsel’s report lays out evidence that the President attempted to ‘curtail the Special Counsel’s investigation and prevent the disclosure of evidence,’” Kildee continued. “While the Special Counsel’s report did not draw an ultimate conclusion about whether the President’s conduct was criminal, the report explicitly states that it does not exonerate the President. The American people now can read the redacted report and draw their own conclusions.”

Nick Manes
Nick Manes covers West Michigan, business and labor, health care and the safety net. He previously spent six years as a reporter at MiBiz covering commercial real estate, economic development and all manner of public policy at the local and state levels. His byline also has appeared in Route Fifty and The Daily Beast. When not reporting around the state or furiously tweeting, he enjoys spending time with his girlfriend, Krista, biking around his hometown of Grand Rapids and torturing himself rooting for the Detroit Lions.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here