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Monday, 27 November 2017 06:43

Is Steve Bannon Planning to Unleash Erik Prince on Wyoming Sen. John Barasso?

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Erik 1127wrpErik Prince. (Photo: Aslan Media / Flickr)After he's finished with the sullied campaign of Alabama's Roy Moore, will Steve Bannon's next project be the Senatorial campaign of Erik Prince, the founder of the notorious Blackwater security firm, or as Esquire's Charles P. Pierce characterized the company, the Blackwater "murder gang"?

In early October, The New York Times reported that Prince, a frequent Breitbart radio guest, is seriously considering and "appears increasingly likely" to stage a primary challenge to Wyoming Republican Senator John Barasso, "a senior member of the Senate Republican leadership." And Bannon, the anti-establishment-candidate-whisperer is pledging his support, and perhaps he'll be able to bring along financial support from Robert Mercer and his daughter Rebekah.  

As The New York Times' Jeremy W. Peters, Maggie Haberman and Glenn Thrush reported, Prince, the brother of education secretary Betsy DeVos, "who has never run for public office, has been a polarizing figure for years, as Blackwater faced a welter of ethical and legal problems over its work for the military in places like Iraq, including an episode in 2007 in which its employees killed 17 civilians in Baghdad."

According to Salon's Heather Digby Parton, "Prince has been under investigation by the government for money laundering and attempts to broker his mercenary services to foreign governments."

Last year, The Intercept's Matthew Cole and Jeremy Scahill reported that Prince has been "working with a small cadre of loyalists — including a former South African commando, a former Australian air force pilot, and a lawyer with dual citizenship in the U.S. and Israel . . . to secretly rebuild his private CIA and special operations enterprise by setting up foreign shell companies and offering paramilitary services." 

More recently, there have been numerous reports that "Prince has been implicated in the Russia investigation after attempting to set up a back channel between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Seychelles islands," Salon noted.

The key to the race is Steve Bannon: "[I]f it materializes, [it] would be just the kind of race that Bannon hopes to replicate across the country. With financing from the Mercers and their network of other conservative donors, Bannon is looking to build a political coalition that recruits people to run against Republican incumbents from Maine to Montana," The Times pointed out.

Bannon has apparently "set his sights most immediately on states like Arizona, Nevada and Mississippi, where he believes a more populist, maverick-style conservative could threaten a sitting Republican senator. But he is also eyeing candidates to run for the Senate in Tennessee, where the retirement of Bob Corker leaves an opening, and in Nebraska, where he believes that Senator Deb Fisher, a first-term Republican, is vulnerable."

Prince, currently the chairman of Frontier Services Group -- an aviation, logistics, and security firm -- served as an informal advisor to the Trump transition team, and, as recently as late August, was seen hustling around Washington pushing a plan to privatize the War in Afghanistan. In a New York Times op-ed piece, Prince argued for a new direction for Afghanistan: "a third path that would put in place a light footprint of American Special Forces, as well as contractors to work with Afghans to focus on the goal that Americans really care about: denying America's enemies the sanctuary they used to plan the Sept. 11 attacks."

He lamented the fact that his plan did not get a fair hearing: "Unfortunately, serving or recently retired Pentagon generals monopolized the conversation, so a conventional outcome was assured."

And, being the conscientious patriot that he is, Prince pledged to "vigorously compete to implement a plan that saves American lives, costs less than 20 percent of current spending and saves American taxpayers more than $40 billion a year. Just as no one criticizes Elon Musk because his company SpaceX helps supply American astronauts, no one should criticize a private company — mine or anyone else's — for helping us end this ugly multigenerational war."

If Prince runs, it is unclear what role his sister, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, might play in his campaign. Education Week's Andrew Ujifusa recently took on that question. "Last year," Ujifusa wrote, "when we wrote about DeVos' contributions to senators who voted on her nomination, we noted that it doesn't appear that DeVos would be legally prohibited from making political donations, although she would be barred from soliciting or discouraging such donations."

One thing to keep in mind: DeVos has said she wouldn't contribute to political campaigns during her time as secretary, although some questioned the value of DeVos' pledge when her husband's donations to two Michigan political action committees this year surfaced. Recently, McNeilly told the Detroit News that in the context of DeVos' promise, people should see a distinction between federal races and "the rest of the world of political giving." However, both PACS did subsequently contribute to federal as well as state candidates. 

Earlier this month Michael Barry became the National Security Council's chief intelligence officer. According to BuzzFeed, Barry "once worked on a secret CIA assassination program meant to target terrorists." That program "was contracted" to Prince, who "was the principal contractor … when Barry was involved, according to two sources familiar with the undertaking."

In mid-February, BuzzFeed's Aram Roston reported Prince "has been offering his military expertise to support Chinese government objectives and setting up two Blackwater-style training camps in China, according to sources and his own company statements."