On Friday, Erik Prince, the brother of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and the founder of the notorious private security and/or mercenary firm Blackwater, sat for an interview with Mehdi Hasan for Al Jazeera English’s Head to Head. In front of a live audience at the Oxford Union, Hasan manages to get Prince to admit he met at Trump Tower in August 2016 with Stephen Miller, George Nader — a former Blackwater colleague and Saudi back-channel contact— and Donald Trump Jr. It’s a detail that Prince failed to mention when he spoke to the Republican-controlled House Intelligence Committee last year, and one that he fumbles over repeatedly, when Hasan asks him why he did not bring it up during his testimony:
“I don’t know if they got the transcript wrong” is, to say the least, an unconvincing answer. Later in the interview, he tries a similar angle, claiming that “not all of the discussion that day was transcribed.” Al Jazeera states that Prince’s comments are the first public acknowledgement of the meeting from any of its reported attendees, and the first time it’s been publicly stated that the meeting was about Iran policy. That summer, Nader was reportedly pushing an option to destabilize Iran via private contractors like Blackwater — which changed its name to Academi in 2011.
Prince makes another brief appearance in the broader Trump-Russia collusion narrative. In January 2017, he met in the Seychelles with Kirill Dmitriev, who runs the Russian Direct Investment Fund, a sovereign wealth fund of more than $10 billion hit by U.S. sanctions after the annexation of Crimea. Prince has said that the pair spent half an hour talking oil and commodity prices, and in a 2017 interview with CNN, he described Dmitriev as “some fund manager” whose name he couldn’t remember. But federal investigators may see the meeting in a different light: It was believed to have been brokered by the UAE, and could have been one of the first in a series of attempts to establish a back channel between Trump and Putin.
In the interview with Mehdi Hasan, Prince continued to downplay the Seychelles contact, saying that “it lasted one beer.” But that line’s efficacy may soon run out: Prince’s name was listed by the House Judiciary among the 81 “agencies, individuals, and other entities tied to the president” that the Democratically controlled committee intends to interview.