Tuesday, education secretary nominee Betsy DeVos faced intense questioning by Democratic senators during her confirmation hearing. DeVos is a longtime backer of charter schools and vouchers for private and religious schools. She and her husband have also invested in a student debt collection agency that does business with the Education Department. Her brother is Erik Prince, founder of the mercenary firm Blackwater.
On Tuesday, DeVos was repeatedly questioned over her role in her family’s foundations, which have poured millions of dollars, if not tens of millions or hundreds of millions, into funding private Christian schools and anti-LGBT organizations, including the groups Focus on the Family and the Family Research Council, which the Southern Poverty Law Center has listed as a hate group.
Jeremy Scahill talking:
Betsy DeVos is Erik Prince’s brother and comes from an incredibly wealthy family in western Michigan. They basically run the city of Holland, Michigan. She and Erik’s father built up a company that later, when he died, was sold to Johnson Controls for $1.6 billion in cash. Erik Prince goes off and starts Blackwater with his share of the money. But Betsy married Dick DeVos, who is the heir to the Amway corporation’s fortune, the people that own the Orlando Magic basketball team. Those two families together in the 1990s gave the seed money to what became known as the radical religious right in the United States. They gave the money to Gary Bauer and the Family Research Council, to James Dobson and Focus on the Family. They poured some $200 million into Republican campaigns. In addition to that, they had—so, on the one hand, they were engaged in the legalized form of bribery that exists in this country through campaign contributions, but then they also were giving money to extremist, hateful organizations masquerading as Christian groups. But these are really hateful people that if you actually read the Sermon on the Mount, for instance, in the gospels, you find almost nothing of Jesus’s teachings in what these people do.
But Betsy DeVos and her husband, Dick DeVos, they really took up the mantle of radical privatization of education as their primary cause. And they’ve stated—Betsy DeVos herself has stated that her vision of public education or of education in the U.S. is to bring the kingdom of God. I don’t know if Betsy DeVos has read the First Amendment, but what she wants to do—to the U.S. Constitution, but what she wants to do is to funnel public funds into religious schools.
Now, what Senator Hassan was focused in on is pretty incredible. I would say directly that Betsy DeVos lied in her testimony to the Senate, because she tried to imply, repeatedly, that she has nothing to do with her very extreme right-wing mother’s foundation. And when Hassan rightly asked her, you know, “Aren’t you an official in this foundation?” Betsy DeVos said no. I started then tweeting about it. I posted excerpts of the 990 tax forms that the foundation filed. And then Maggie Hassan returned to the hearing, even though Lamar Alexander, the Republican chair of the committee—most of the hearing was dominated, actually, by Lamar Alexander trying to figure out a way to justify not letting the Democrats ask questions. So, once we then posted parts of the 990, Maggie Hassan then came back, and Patty Murray, the ranking member, gave her part of her time. She then says to Betsy DeVos, “Wait a minute. I would like to clarify something, as we just heard. You know, you were—OK, you weren’t on the board. You were the vice president of it.” And she says, “No, I wasn’t,” and then says, “It was a clerical error.” Now, there’s probably a cleric somewhere in Michigan that’s like—
She says, “These are—we have the 990s all the”—because, see, what happened is, Betsy DeVos was listed as a vice president. This wasn’t just one tax filing. This is a decade worth of tax filings where Betsy DeVos and Erik Prince are listed as vice presidents of their mother’s foundation, specifically during the time when they were pouring money into what the Southern Poverty Law Center says was an anti-LGBTQ hate group. And Betsy DeVos, she lied to those senators. Now, that’s not the most scandalous thing at all about Betsy DeVos being named as education secretary, but it should be an immediate disqualifier.
Betsy DeVos was also asked in that hearing directly about the whole scam that was Trump University, and refused to really commit to the idea that they should not—that these kinds of private so-called career colleges, like the fraud that Donald Trump engaged in, should receive federal funds. And she really would not commit to that. But there could not be a less qualified individual to run the public education, you know, ministry of the United States government than Betsy DeVos, if the point is to support public education, because what the DeVoses want, what the Princes want, is to siphon off public financing to go to religious schools, because they don’t believe in a separation of church and state. They believe in a Christian supremacist theocracy that should govern the United States. And Trump was certainly not their first choice, but if you look at the kind of dominionist crowd that these guys run in, the very right-wing evangelicals, they now have come to peace with the idea that Trump is God’s chosen vehicle to deliver these policies. They’re very militant believers.
Betsy DeVos can try to separate herself from what her mother, Elsa Prince, does, such as giving $450,000 in one month alone to try to defeat a ballot initiative over gay marriage—or, to support a ballot initiative that would ban gay marriage in the state of California—she lives in Michigan—but she was the vice president, along with her brother, Erik Prince, the mercenary kingpin, of that foundation at the height of its funding of these hate groups. The idea that we’re going to have someone that has supported gay conversion therapy through a foundation that she was the vice president of—even though she said to Tammy Baldwin, the first openly gay woman in the Senate, “Oh, no, no, no, I view the intrinsic value of every life,” she looked like she wanted to vomit, having to speak to an openly gay senator, because they hate gay people. Let’s just be clear about it: The Prince family and the DeVos family, their public record suggests they hate anyone who is not straight, white and Christian.
remember, Erik Prince views himself as the rightful heir to the legacy of “Wild Bill” Donovan, who was the head of the agency that was the precursor to the CIA. And, you know, immediately after 9/11, Erik Prince became very, very close to a number of people within the CIA and also Dick Cheney and Dick Cheney’s office. And they jointly came up with this idea that Erik Prince could run a kind of off-the-books hit squad that could roam the world conducting assassinations for the United States, and there would be no effective paper trail and no ability for Congress to engage in any oversight. Now, Leon Panetta, who was Obama’s CIA director early on in Obama’s term, said, “Oh, we shut down that program, and no one was ever killed.” I don’t believe that for one moment. That was—that was part of the legacy of the Phoenix Program, that was a murderous death squad operation in Vietnam, that also included enhanced interrogation.
Robert Mercer, the billionaire hedge funder, his daughter Rebekah ran one of the most important super PACs to Trump, Make America Number 1 super PAC. And Trump—and Erik Prince and his mother, Elsa, were two of the largest contributors to one of the most significant super PACs that supported Donald Trump. Erik Prince is very close to Robert Mercer. Prince was also at the “Heroes and Villains” party that Mercer threw in Long Island after the election. And, in fact, there’s a picture that Peter Thiel, the right-wing billionaire who destroyed Gawker—a picture of Peter Thiel, Donald Trump and Erik Prince, that Peter Thiel says is not safe for the internet. But it’s clear that Erik Prince, through Betsy DeVos, through Robert Mercer and through his very right-wing paramilitary crowd, has the ear of President-elect Donald Trump. And our understanding, from a very well-placed source, is that Prince has even been advising Trump on his selections for the staffing of the Defense Department and the State Department.
co-founder of The Intercept and author of the new article “Notorious Mercenary Erik Prince Is Advising Trump from the Shadows.” He is host of the new weekly podcast Intercepted, which premieres January 25.
— source democracynow.org