WASHINGTON — In the summer of 2018, as Richard Seddon, a former British spy, tried to start a new business to use undercover agents to infiltrate progressive groups, Democratic campaigns and other opponents of President Donald J. Trump, he enlisted the help of a longtime friend and former colleague: Erik Prince, the private military contractor.
According to interviews and documents, Mr Prince took on the role of celebrity pitcher, raising money for Mr Seddon’s spy operation, which aimed to collect dirt likely to discredit politicians and campaigners across several States. After Mr Prince and Mr Seddon met Susan Gore, a Wyoming heiress to the Gore-Tex fortune, in August 2018, Mrs Gore became the main benefactor of the project.
Mr Prince’s role in the effort, which was previously undisclosed, sheds further light on how a group of ultra-conservative Republicans have used espionage to try to manipulate the US political landscape. Mr Prince – a former CIA contractor who is best known as the founder of the private military company Blackwater and whose sister, Betsy DeVos, was Mr Trump’s education secretary – caught the eye over the years on Blackwater’s record of violence around the world and its subsequent ventures training and arming foreign forces.
His willingness to support Mr Seddon’s operation is further evidence of his involvement in political espionage schemes at home during a period when he was an informal adviser to Trump administration officials.
Mr Seddon’s recruitment of Mr Prince to help him secure funding is just one of new details about Mr Seddon’s operation revealed in documents obtained by The Times and interviews with people familiar with his plans. They provide further insight into the operation’s ambition to use undercover agents to target Republicans deemed insufficiently conservative, as well as, as one document describes, “to seek out, penetrate, and infiltrate left-wing networks.” radical”.
The Times previously reported that in 2016 and 2017, Mr Prince recruited Mr Seddon to join the conservative group Project Veritas to teach espionage skills to its agents and manage its undercover operations. Mr. Prince also allowed Project Veritas to use his family’s Wyoming ranch for the training. Mr Seddon launched his privately funded espionage effort after leaving Project Veritas in 2018.
It is unclear how many potential donors Mr Prince might have approached for money for Mr Seddon’s business besides Ms Gore. Separately, Ms Gore unsuccessfully tried to raise money for the project from Foster Friess, a billionaire businessman from Wyoming, during a meeting in January 2019, three people said.
During the 2018 meeting with Ms Gore, according to a person familiar with her, Mr Prince and Mr Seddon said the purpose of the private spy operation was to gather information on Democrats and ‘RINOs’ – slang in conservative circles for “Republicans in name only.” The plan was to start in Wyoming, they said, and expand operations from there.
For two years, Mr. Seddon’s undercover agents also developed networks in Colorado and Arizona and made thousands of dollars in campaign donations posing as Democrats, both to the Democratic National Committee and individual campaigns. Surreptitiously funneling money to campaigns through other donors — known as strawman donations — would violate federal campaign finance laws.
Mr Prince is separately being investigated by the Justice Department over unrelated matters, according to people familiar with the matter. The scope of this investigation is unclear.
Mr Prince declined to comment. Mr. Seddon and Ms. Gore did not respond to messages.
The documents give new details about attempts to manipulate Wyoming politics. While the state is currently solidly Republican, Mr. Seddon and Ms. Gore thought it might turn to Democrats, as Colorado did.
One target in particular was Governor Mark Gordon, who was considered a RINO in some conservative Wyoming circles.
After Mr. Gordon won a close Republican primary battle against Mr. Friess, the billionaire, in August 2018, Mr. Friess blamed his loss about Democrats switching parties on Election Day to vote for Mr Gordon.
“It appears the Democrats have taken this party-switching deal to their advantage,” Mr. Friess wrote in an email obtained by WyofileName, a Wyoming political news site. He added, “With Trump getting 70% of the vote, it shows how the Democrats were able to control our elections by donning a Republican mantle.”
Mr Gordon took office in January 2019. A document that month said Mr Seddon’s agents had ‘identified three potential sources in the new governor’s administration and began fast-track cultures for recruitment early”.
Later in January, the agents wrote that they had “successfully recruited another source with a role in the new governor’s administration,” adding that “the source has agreed to provide information, assist in exposing the corruption and assist in the possible placement of undercover agents”.
According to the documents, Mr. Seddon’s agents also aimed to dig up information about Steve Harshman, the Republican Speaker of the Wyoming House at the time, who was also seen by some conservatives as not sufficiently supportive of Mr. Trump. A February 2019 report said a “secret new one would join the team” and would be tasked with targeting Mr Harshman.
Months later, in June 2019, a report said “we expect a big hit, including new lines of intelligence from the Republican side of the House.”
The documents also show that beyond Ms Gore, other prominent Wyoming Republicans were involved in Mr Seddon’s spying operation.
One of the documents says Marti Halverson, a former Wyoming state legislator, provided a list of people to target. The list included John Cox, then director of the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services, and Scott Talbott, then director of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. The document is dated December 2018 and says Mr Talbott was “another of Marti’s names of corrupt individuals”.
Reached by phone, Ms Halverson said: ‘Frankly, I have nothing to say on the subject. She then hung up.
Mr Seddon has enlisted other former Project Veritas employees to help with the Wyoming operation, including James Artherton, a British agent codenamed ‘kimchi’ who was implicated in a Project Veritas scheme targeting a New York Times editor in London in 2017.
One of the undercover agents also got a job for a consortium of wealthy liberal donors – the Wyoming Investor Network – which had made a strategic decision to support moderate Republican candidates rather than those more closely aligned with the agenda. of Mr. Trump, according to the documents. This work allowed him to gain valuable information about the Republican candidates the group supported with independent advertisements.
Mr Prince has previously been involved in trying to find dirt on Democratic politicians. In 2016, Republican operatives believed they had obtained deleted emails from Hillary Clinton on the dark web and sought Mr. Prince’s help in authenticating them, an episode investigated by Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel for the Trump-era Russia investigation.
The special counsel’s report states that Mr. Prince “provided funds to hire a technical adviser to verify the authenticity of the emails.” According to Prince, the technical adviser determined that the emails were not genuine.
Later that year, Mr. Prince turned to Mr. Seddon to help train Project Veritas agents. The pair had known each other from when Mr Prince ran Blackwater and shared an affinity for guns and the American West. Mr. Seddon owns a cabin which he keeps stocked with firearms, food and other supplies in preparation for a cataclysmic event in the United States.
At a meeting in a Las Vegas suburb last April of employees of Ms. Gore’s organization, the Wyoming Liberty Group, Mr. Seddon presented a proposal to create a website where other so- saying preparers could buy their own supplies and communicate with each other in the event of what he called a “Black Swan” moment – a major terrorist attack, another pandemic or a civil war.
Ms Gore ended up rejecting the proposal because it was too expensive – people familiar with the plan said it would start at hundreds of thousands of dollars.