Mehdi Hasan challenges the Blackwater founder on his firm’s role in Iraq and his new plan to privatise the Afghan war.
Erik Prince, the founder of the private American security company Blackwater, has admitted to meeting with members of the Trump campaign in August 2016 after, according to a public transcript, apparently failing to disclose the gathering during his testimony in front of the House Intelligence Committee last year.
When asked by Mehdi Hasan on Al Jazeera’s Head to Head programme about the August 3, 2016, Trump Tower meeting that reportedly took place between Prince, Donald Trump campaign officials, an Israeli social media specialist and an emissary for two Gulf princes, the former Blackwater CEO did not deny the meeting took place.
“We were there … to talk about Iran policy,” Prince said when pressed by Hasan.
According to the New York Times, that meeting was attended by Prince, Donald Trump Jr, George Nader, a former Blackwater employee and emissary for the crown princes of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, Stephen Miller, then a top aide to the Trump campaign and currently a senior policy adviser to the president and Joel Zamel, whose company Psy-Group employed former Israeli intelligence operatives and specialised in social media manipulation and was reportedly contacted by Rick Gates, a top Trump campaign official, for proposals for social media manipulation to help Trump win the election.
Prince, however, apparently did not disclose information about the meeting when testifying before the House Intelligence Committee on November 30, 2017, according to a public transcript.
Prince testified under oath that he had “no official, or, really unofficial role” in the Trump campaign. He also told the House panel that he did not have any formal communications or contact with the campaign other than policy papers given to Steve Bannon, attending some fundraisers and a “yard sign”.
When asked by Al Jazeera’s Hasan about why he didn’t then disclose the August 2016 Trump Tower meeting, Prince initially said he “disclosed any meetings, the very, very few” he had.
When pressed further by Hasan, Prince said, “I don’t believe I was asked that question.”
Prince later contradicted himself, saying he did tell the panel about the meeting. When asked to explain why it was not in the transcript, Prince said, “I don’t know if they got the transcript wrong.”
He later also said that “not all of the discussion that day was transcribed”.
He added that he “certainly” remembers discussing the meeting with “investigators”.
A staff member of the House Intelligence Committee told Al Jazeera that Prince was not asked about the August 3, 2016 meeting in Trump Tower during his testimony and any redactions that were made to that testimony were done to protect personally identifiable information.
The Blackwater founder’s comments to Hasan is the first time that Prince or anyone else who reportedly attended the meeting has publicly acknowledged it and the first indication that it could have been about Iran policy. At the time, Nader was reportedly seeking to advance a clandestine plan to destabilise Iran through the use of private military contractors.
Since coming to office, Trump has taken a hawkish stance towards Iran, pulling out of the nuclear deal in 2018 and blaming the country for the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS). Last month in Warsaw, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told the conference, “You can’t achieve stability in the Middle East without confronting Iran.” US National Security Advisor John Bolton has also advocated for regime change in the country.
In Head to Head‘s wide-ranging interview with Prince, the Blackwater founder also responds to questions about his meeting in the Seychelles with a Russian businessman close to the Kremlin and discusses the private security company’s history during the Iraq war, including the Nisour Square massacre, as well as his proposal for ending the war in Afghanistan.
Blackwater’s Erik Prince: Iraq, privatising wars, and Trump will air on March 8, 2019 at 20:00 GMT and it will be repeated on March 9 at 12:00GMT, March 10 at 01:00 GMT and March 11 at 06:00 GMT.
You can also watch it online.