Trump ally Erik Prince has recruited former US and British spies to help a conservative group target Democratic campaigns and labor organizations, among others, seen as averse to President Donald Trump, according to a New York Times report.
Based on interviews and documents, the Times reported that one of Prince’s recruits is a former officer of Britain’s foreign intelligence agency MI6.
The former MI6 officer, Richard Seddon, oversaw a 2017 undercover operation to copy documents and tape conversations in a Michigan chapter of the teacher’s union, American Federation of Teachers, according to the Times.
Documents obtained by the Times showed that Seddon directed an undercover operative to secretly record AFT Michigan’s local leaders and gather potentially damaging information on the union, the newspaper reported.
The Times reported that the operation was carried out by Project Veritas, a conservative organization led by self-described “guerrilla journalist” James O’Keefe that uses controversial tactics of hidden cameras and secret recordings. CNN and other media organizations have been targeted by Project Veritas’ sting operations.
AFT Michigan sued Project Veritas in federal court and a trial is set for November. Project Veritas has argued that its actions are both protected by the First Amendment and legal.
Project Veritas has yet to respond to CNN’s request for comment. A spokesman for Prince declined to comment to both CNN and the Times. Seddon did not respond to emails from the newspaper.
O’Keefe declined to answer the Times’ questions about Prince or Seddon.
He told the Times that Project Veritas is a “proud independent news organization” involved in several investigations and that numerous sources were providing to the group “confidential documents, insights into internal processes and wearing hidden cameras to expose corruption and misconduct.”
“No one tells Project Veritas who or what to investigate,” he told the Times.
The Times noted that it’s unclear whether any Trump administration officials or advisers were involved in the operations.
According to the Times, Prince, the founder of the private security firm Blackwater WorldWide, appeared to first show interest in using former spies to train Project Veritas in espionage tactics during the 2016 presidential election.
In his pitch to former intelligence officers, Prince said his goal was to have Project Veritas learn surveillance skills, like recruiting sources and carrying out secret recordings, the Times reported.
In 2017, Prince invited O’Keefe and Project Veritas employees to his family’s Wyoming ranch and arranged for an unnamed former British MI6 officer to provide training for the group, The Intercept reported last year.
A spokesperson for Prince told The Intercept that Prince “supports Project Veritas’s mission of uncovering government largesse and corruption, and has allowed Project Veritas to use his family’s ranch in Wyoming.” The spokesperson added that Prince has no business relationship with O’Keefe or Project Veritas.
Project Veritas and Prince both have ties to Trump.
Trump has promoted Project Veritas videos and met with O’Keefe shortly after he became a declared candidate in 2015. Before he was a candidate, Trump’s charitable foundation donated at least $10,000 to Project Veritas, according to CNN and The Washington Post.
O’Keefe was invited to the White House in July 2019 for its “social media summit,” which included a number of political allies.
Prince, who is also the brother of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, has been a prominent supporter of Trump and informally advised the White House on some major foreign policy decisions.
Prince is one of a dozen or so Trump associates who had contacts with Russians during the campaign or transition and found himself wrapped up in the investigations into Russian meddling in the 2016 US election, according to CNN and other outlets’ reporting, as well as public statements.
He is currently under investigation by the Justice Department over allegations he lied to Congress during the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation into Russian interference and possible violations of American export laws, the Times reported.
CNN obtained a letter last month showing that the DOJ was reviewing House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff’s months-old request to open an investigation into allegations that Prince repeatedly misled Congress.
The Department of Justice letter to Schiff, dated February 4, said, “The Department ordinarily does not confirm or deny the existence of an investigation, and you should not interpret this acknowledgment as confirmation of an investigation of any of the matters described in your letter.”
Marc Cohen, a spokesman for Prince, told CNN in regard to the Russia investigation that Prince’s “testimony has been public for more than a year, and was available at all times that Mr. Prince met with the Department of Justice during the Special Counsel’s investigation.”
“Mr. Prince cooperated completely with the Special Counsel’s investigation, as its report demonstrates,” Cohen said. “There is nothing new for the Department of Justice to consider, nor is there any reason to question the Special Counsel’s decision to credit Mr. Prince and rely on him in drafting its report.”
CNN’s Marshall Cohen and Zachary Cohen contributed to this report.