MATTHEW COLE: Right. And he became too toxic, and Blackwater became too toxic, so they changed the name and then he was forced to sell. And once the Obama administration comes in, they make it very clear that Blackwater was not welcome in the government-contracting world. And so he had to find a new gig.
AMY GOODMAN: So jump forward to that meeting in the Seychelles.
MATTHEW COLE: So in January of 2017, a week before the inauguration of Donald Trump, Erik Prince gets on a plane and goes to the Seychelles, where he is attending the private strategy session of Mohammed bin Zayed. Erik Prince had previously essentially been part of bin Zayed's MBZ as he is referred to -- his royal court, as an adviser on counter-terrorism and fighting Islamic militarism and militants in the Middle East and Northern Africa, East Africa. And he is there -- we now know, certainly from reporting and then the Mueller report -- he is there to meet with a top Russian banker who is the emissary for Putin.
And MBZ is trying to put together a sort of new world order with a new incoming U.S. administration, to try to solve Syria, to try to figure out what to do in Yemen, and try to, from their standpoint, from the Gulf Arab standpoint, beat back Iran. And all of those things are things that Erik Prince has been obsessed with for 20-plus years. And so he has this meeting with MBZ, but then he also has a secondary meeting with this Russian banker who is the back channel to Putin.
And what we get out of it for the next couple of 18 months is Erik Prince's insistence that the meeting was by chance, that he had run into this Russian at the bar and had a beer and it was just two guys who were talking commodities prices. And what my story did was to look at -- and in fact, that's actually where the story began for me, and the reporting, was I had done a lot of reporting on Erik's business effort in a private equity fund in Africa. And in that reporting, what I discovered was that he had mostly just lost his own money. He had poured anywhere from $35 million to $50 million in his own money and lost almost all of it. And so it seemed odd to me that he was saying to Congress -- the Emiratis said, "Hey, you're in the commodities business and this Russian banker who manages an $8 billion sovereign wealth fund is also in the commodities business. You have a lot to talk about."
And what struck me was that they had nothing to talk about. One was a guy who had managed to lose his own money at a small amount relative to world finance, and another is one of the biggest sovereign wealth bankers in the world. So unless they're passing messages between two entities, they really had nothing to talk about. And that sort of began my journey through Erik Prince's last 10 years as a businessman.
AMY GOODMAN: And that was Kirill Dmitriev, who was the chief -- a very close associate, as well, to President Putin.
MATTHEW COLE: That's right.
AMY GOODMAN: Erik Prince was with Donald Trump the night he was elected. Very close to him. Again, the brother of Betsy DeVos. Talk about his plan to privatize the war in Afghanistan.
MATTHEW COLE: Sure. With Trump's election, Prince was back in the game. He had been out for eight years, for the entire Obama administration. And the Trump administration, which was largely backed by the Mercer family during the campaign -- also close to the Prince family. Bannon, Breitbart -- all people that Erik Prince was close to. Erik Prince saw an opportunity here to get back into government contracting. And his plan was to pull U.S. troops out of Afghanistan in their entirety and replace them with something like what he called the East India Corporation. That is what he compared it to. And that the U.S. should have a viceroy, and that someone like Erik Prince should be the viceroy, and put together a private military that would do work with the Afghan Army. And that proposal, which he plugged in op-eds, on television, landed very poorly inside the national security establishment in the U.S. It also landed very poorly in Afghanistan, where Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has said under no circumstances will Erik Prince or a private military, foreign military, be allowed to operate in Afghanistan.
AMY GOODMAN: You also have this latest report from Reuters -- over the last several months, Prince has sought investment and political support for an operation involving Venezuela from influential Trump supporters and wealthy Venezuelan exiles. In private meetings in the U.S. and Europe, Prince sketched out a plan to field up to 5,000 soldiers for hire on behalf of Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó, according to two sources with direct knowledge of Prince's pitch.
MATTHEW COLE: What makes Erik Prince so unique is that there are very few Americans who have the wealth and the political power and his experience so that someone who has never really worked for the government or been part of government is taken so seriously whenever there is or wherever there is a conflict, a hot spot around the world. Erik Prince travels the world almost weekly going to capitals, meeting with countries' leaders, selling a mercenary concept, a paramilitary arm. And what he tries to do is own every piece of a supply chain for conflict.
And so it was no surprise -- it was shocking, but it was no surprise -- that he had a plan for Venezuela. One hopes -- and part of the reason why I worked on this story for so long was one hopes that by understanding how incompetent he is as a businessman and as a manager for these programs, that no one would trust him to give him that kind of responsibility or the money to pay for something like this.
AMY GOODMAN: You broke news with this part of the piece: "During the 2016 election, he became involved with James O'Keefe and Project Veritas, a group of conservative provocateurs who specialize in using hidden camera footage and secret recordings."
MATTHEW COLE: Yeah. And this was, again, what I was saying about him coming back sort of domestically was as he failed abroad, he started to look at politics and come back home. And what he did was he found like-minded groups. He had been pitched years before to be an investor in an Israeli intelligence company called Black Cube which got notoriety during the #MeToo movement with the Harvey Weinstein investigations. And they are former Israeli intelligence operatives who act and pose as people, as journalists, to try to gather information, usually for dirt.
AMY GOODMAN: Weinstein hired them to try to --