National Security

Erik Prince denies back channel communication with Putin-linked official in ‘incidental’ meeting

Erik Prince, founder of the private security firm once known as Blackwater, is asserting that a meeting he had with an associate of Russian President Vladimir Putin was "incidental," denying the existence of any back-channel communications with Russia.

Prince, who is the brother of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, told NBC's Andrea Mitchell that he has had "no follow-up with them since then," referring to a meeting in January 2017 that took place days before then-president-elect Trump was sworn into office, and involved a Russian banker and United Arab Emirates Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan.

"It was an incidental meeting," he said.

Prince has repeatedly denied that the meeting took part on behalf of the Trump administration or the U.S., but is being investigated by special counsel Robert Mueller's office over the meeting. Prince, in June, said he cooperated with Mueller's probe into possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russia.

Prince was never an official member of the Trump campaign or eventual administration, but has informally advised Trump for years and was a prominent supporter during the 2016 election.

President Trump is reportedly considering a proposal from Prince to privatize the U.S. war in Afghanistan, replacing troops with military contractors. Prince told NBC that he will soon launch a media campaign to win support for his plan.

Blackwater, now known as Academi, has come under fire for its role in the Iraq War. Employees of the company were sentenced to prison in 2015 for a violent 2007 episode that resulted in the deaths of 14 unarmed Iraqi citizens.

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