Erik Prince, the Blackwater-founder-turned-unofficial-2016-Trump-campaign-adviser, advocated to the campaign years ago for the killing of Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani, according to a recently disclosed memo that reveals some of the earliest thinking circulated within Donald Trump’s team regarding his approach to Iran.
Prince made the pitch in a memo emailed to Steve Bannon, then running the conservative website Breitbart, who forwarded the memo to then-campaign manager Corey Lewandowski. It’s not clear whether the message reached Trump, but Prince’s outreach on foreign policy later got him audiences with future national security adviser Michael Flynn and Donald Trump Jr.
“[Qasem Soleimani] is the Heinrich Himmler of the Iranian State,” Erik Prince wrote in the September 8, 2015 memo to the Trump campaign, pegging Soleimani as the “muscle” behind the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. “That Soleimani and his ilk are not already DEAD is a national disgrace for America.”
The memo was made public recently as part of a CNN lawsuit seeking access to documents from the Robert Mueller Russia investigation.
In his memo, Prince offers sharp criticism of the Obama administration’s handling of Iran and highlights Soleimani’s and his Quds Force’s record of targeting Americans in terrorist attacks over decades. In language that presages some of the Trump administration’s rationale in recent days for the Soleimani killing, Prince wrote that “it is the Quds [Force] that supplied Iraqi Shia extremists with a extremely dangerous Improvised Explosive Device IED (road side bomb) called an EFP. … The Iranians have killed and maimed thousands of Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
Prince’s memo includes a short primer on his perceptions of Iranian culture and the country’s current leadership, noting, “They are a very deliberate people. This is a society that places up to a thousand stitches in a square inch of a Persian rug. They have been focused on a path to regional dominance and they are winning.”
Prince also shared his thoughts about American policy on Russia, China, Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq and on the US government’s administration of veterans’ health care.
“My advice on Soleimani was correct in 2015 as was my plan for 2018 for rationalization in Afghanistan,” Prince told CNN’s Vicky Ward after this story’s publication. “The President knows the current Afghan paradigm is fatally flawed. I hope he soon listens to different voices there too.”
Another email obtained by CNN in the Mueller public records litigation shows Bannon passed Prince’s memo along to Lewandowski that same day.
Four days later, Bannon asked Lewandowski about setting up a phone call between Prince and then-candidate Trump, according to the emails Mueller collected. Prince also connected with Flynn, who became Trump’s first national security adviser, the emails show.
Bannon told the special counsel’s office “that he did not remember” passing Prince’s memo along, “but it sounded like something he would do.”
“Bannon did not remember discussing the memorandum attached to the email, but said he would have sent something forward like it. … Bannon could not remember if Prince briefed the candidate, but Bannon did put Prince in contact with Flynn,” Mueller’s team wrote about what Bannon had told them in a private interview in February 2018. During that interview, special counsel’s investigators showed Bannon the memo from Prince.
In August 2016, Prince, Trump Jr. and the now-indicted Middle East expert and businessman George Nader met at Trump Tower “to talk about Iran policy,” Prince said in a March 2019 Al Jazeera interview.
Prince, the brother of Trump’s education secretary, Betsy DeVos, continues to operate a security business with interests in the Middle East.
UPDATE: This story has been updated to reflect Prince’s comment after publication.