Russiagate Thread: Saudi Arabia, Putin’s Russia, ‘West Michigan’ — All Oligarchies Together!

Per the Daily Beast:

Joint U.S.-Russian raids to kill top terrorists. Teamwork between an American government agency and a sanctioned Russian fund. Moscow pouring money into the Midwest.

These are just a few of the ideas the head of a Russian sovereign wealth fund touched on during his meeting with former Blackwater head Erik Prince in the Seychelles, just weeks before President Donald Trump’s inauguration, according to a memo exclusively reviewed by The Daily Beast.

The meeting between Prince, an influential Trump ally, and Kirill Dmitriev, the CEO of the sanctioned fund, took place on Jan. 11, 2017, at the Four Seasons Hotel in a bar overlooking the Indian Ocean. George Nader, a Lebanese-American businessman who advises the crown prince of the United Arab Emirates, was also present…

Since Prince’s testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, Mueller’s team has received information that the meeting was a pre-organized effort to set up a backchannel between the Trump administration and the Kremlin, according to The Washington Post.

Still, the exact details of the conversation between Prince and Dmitriev in the Seychelles have remained murky. But a memo Dmitriev sent after the meeting—described here for the first time—sheds new light on the conversation and indicates it addressed some of the thorniest diplomatic challenges facing the United States and Russia…

My old friends from the Grand Rapids area treated the deVos-Prince oligarchy as second only to Michigan mosquitoes on the list of local pests that could be withstood but never completely avoided. Sam Tannenhaus’ Vanity Fair article helps explain why. ““I’m Tired of America Wasting Our Blood and Treasure”: The Strange Ascent of Betsy DeVos and Erik Prince”:

In the solar system of elite Republican contributors, Richard DeVos Sr., who died [in early September] at age 92—one of the two founders of Amway, the direct-sale colossus—occupied an exalted place, and his offspring did too. Since the 1970s, members of the DeVos family had given as much as $200 million to the G.O.P. and been tireless promoters of the modern conservative movement—its ideas, its policies, and its crusades combining free-market economics, a push for privatization of many government functions, and Christian social values. While other far-right mega-donors may have become better known over the years (the Coorses and the Kochs, Sheldon Adelson and the Mercers), Michigan’s DeVos dynasty stands apart—for the duration, range, and depth of its influence.

Start with the think tanks, advocacy organizations, and colleges. In the Grand Rapids area alone there are three conservative academic bastions: Grand Valley State University; Calvin College, attended by several generations of DeVoses, including Rich’s daughter-in-law Betsy DeVos, 60, who is now Trump’s secretary of education; and Northwood University, her husband Dick’s alma mater. The DeVoses are also major backers of Hillsdale, the libertarian-plus-Christian liberal-arts college in southern Michigan. One celebrated alum: Betsy DeVos’s brother, Erik Prince, 49, the swashbuckling military contractor who has come to the serious attention of investigators looking into the Trump team’s alleged dealings with Russia. Other recipients of DeVos largesse: the Heritage Foundation, the Institute for Justice, and the American Enterprise Institute—the list goes on…

The DeVoses’ preference for “values-oriented” candidates reflect the teachings of the Christian Reformed Church. A small breakaway denomination of its Dutch forerunner, it has some 300,000 adherents in North America, many living in the same western-Michigan towns where their immigrant ancestors settled in the 1840s to pursue a faith that combines Calvinist devotion to the work ethic, prayer, a dedication to family and community—and philanthropy. The DeVoses take this seriously. Quite apart from their political donations, they have lavished millions on worthy charitable projects in and around town and far beyond. They have done all this, however, with a flamboyance unusual for Grand Rapids, stamping the family name, or Amway’s, on many of the city’s most visible surfaces.

And now Donald J. Trump, himself a stranger to charity but not to branding, was in DeVos country. When the Marriott meeting ended, and the doors opened, “the one lasting image for me,” one Grand Rapids journalist would later recall, “was seeing Rich DeVos wheeled out of the ballroom to the elevator.” Trump had gotten his audience with the patriarch.

Some five weeks later, on November 7, Trump and his running mate, Mike Pence, came back yet again for the campaign’s last rally—at the DeVos Place Convention Center. Trump, it turned out, would squeak through, by fewer than 11,000 votes. While the bellwether suburbs outside Detroit certainly helped, Michiganders knew the critical votes that formed Trump’s base had come from the western part of the state. The point was clinched 12 days later, when Betsy DeVos, in a stylish gray jacket and practiced smile, stood with Trump at his golf resort in Bedminster, New Jersey. She had agreed to be Trump’s education chief. The announcement brought “Western Michigan royalty into the Trump fold,” observed The New York Times. (Indeed, when the Senate was split on confirming her, her pal Mike Pence cast the tie-breaking vote.) In retrospect, it seemed an early token of surrenders to come, as G.O.P. leaders would make their bargain with the interloper Donald Trump.

That was one way of looking at it. Another was that Trump was a useful vehicle for advancing nationally the revolution the DeVoses had already enacted in Michigan. There was, for instance, Betsy DeVos’s campaign to undo the state’s public-education system and replace it with for-profit and charter schools that, as she had put it two decades earlier, shared her mission of “defending the Judeo-Christian values that made us what we are, but which are under attack from the liberal elite.” There was also the campaign she and her husband had waged to weaken Michigan’s unions. And there was the DeVos-family-funded gentrification of Grand Rapids, which had erased the haunting images of a once struggling Rust Belt city, though one beset by racial tensions.

Those are some of the lessons to be learned in western Michigan—West Michigan, as locals call it, as if to designate a separate state, or at least a state of mind. Other lessons can be found in the pulp-fiction career of Betsy DeVos’s younger brother, Erik Prince, the former navy SEAL who started Blackwater—the mammoth security company, some of whose “civilian soldiers” had gone rogue in Iraq. Prince recently turned over his computer and phones to special counsel Robert Mueller’s team, which has no doubt looked closely at his possible involvement in helping establish back-channel communications with Russia for the Trump administration. (Prince denies any wrongdoing.)

Behind all this is the story of a family dynasty that has been a driving force on the far right—the Michigan Medicis of Donald Trump’s America.

When people in West Michigan speak of the DeVoses, they mean not one great family but two, joined as the great European noble houses once were—Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, Hanover and Windsor. The story actually begins 30 miles west of Grand Rapids, in Holland, a town of some 34,000 on Lake Macatawa that is as reliable a Republican stronghold as any in America. The last time the county voted Democratic in a presidential election? In 1864—against Abraham Lincoln…

23 replies
  1. 1
    burnspbesq says:

    Families like this are a good argument for an estate tax with teeth.

  2. 2
    Elizabelle says:

    @burnspbesq: Absolutely.

  3. 3
    Mnemosyne says:

    I just realized something about Kavanaugh when this 5th accuser’s story was revealed: he’s been preying on conservative women because he knows he can ruin their careers if they try to accuse him. That’s why the first few accusations are from high school and college — there’s not much he can do against a tenured college professor in California.

  4. 4
    Achrchno says:

    @burnspbesq: Big teeth, I hope.

  5. 5
    feebog says:


    Families like this are a good argument for an estate tax with teeth.

    Not good enough. Try a good argument for pikes lined up on a wall.

  6. 6

    Prince & DeVos are picture perfect examples of why the French resorted to the guillotines.

  7. 7
    danielx says:


    HOPE: Heads On Pikes Everywhere.

  8. 8

    A couple of points from that Daily Beast article:

    Evelyn Farkas, an Obama administration Pentagon official who focused on Eastern Europe and Russia, said the proposals in the memo aren’t unusual; in fact, they mirror proposals that Moscow makes regularly.

    “It’s nothing new,” she told The Daily Beast. “What is new is that they’re trying to do this through this weird backchannel.”

    Himes put it this way: “This just feels to me like one more of the half-dozen examples of Russians sticking their tentacles out to see what kind of relationships they might build, what kind of influence they might have.”

    Presumably Mueller knows more about this than I do, but the sheer number of overtures from Russia to different people is striking. Off the top of my head, I can think of Carter Page and George Papadopoulos being dropped into the Trump campaign, Flynn’s adventures with Kislyak, who seems to have befriended a number of folks in the campaign including Sessions, the June 9 meeting with Don Jr. and others, Paul Manafort’s generosity in being campaign manager free for nothing, and this. And never a word from any of the folks in the campaign to the FBI or other relevant agencies.

    The overlaps – Kislyak and Manafort figure in a number of interactions – are probably the most profitable paths of investigation, but there’s always the possibility that something will show up in a sub-sub-plot. There’s an enormous amount to investigate.

  9. 9
  10. 10
    khead says:

    Adam’s Trump Doctrine in action…

    “I want them to sell oil. I told them, I’m not happy with OPEC. We take care of all of these people, we defend them, they wouldn’t be there for two weeks if it wasn’t for me and the United States” – From today’s shitshow.

  11. 11
    Mary G says:

    If you talked about this earlier, my apologies, but Reuter’s latest poll has a lot of good news for Democrats in the Midwest, plus they did Texas and found Beto 47%, The Zodiac Killer 45% Still within the margin of error, but so happy to see Beto on top!

    Joe Donnelly in Indiana is ahead, but not by much, and Jacky Rosen is behind in Nevada. I donate to her, but I am thinking of unsubscribing from her emails because they are terrible. Whiny. Poor little me, the Koch Bros are spending so much. Talk about the issues, dammit! Dean Heller should be easy to beat. Twitler was just there, maybe it’s a blip.

  12. 12
    Yutsano says:

    @Mary G: It’s possible the “hiccup” comment may not have spread enough yet. Or the polls are undersampling Hispanics again. Either way, Heller is a terrible Senator, and if he votes for Kavanaugh Rosen needs to hang that on him and hard.

  13. 13
    Jay says:

    And of course the Mercenary Prince is now based out of Dubai and financed and armed by China.

    Such an American Patriot.

    Between the exposure of Yale and Harvard Allumni, and all the other revelations about the American Aristocracy, a deep cleaning purge is clearly needed.

  14. 14
    Mainmtta says:

    @Mary G: Yeah, I think it’s mostly a Trump effect. But she does need to be much more on the issues.

  15. 15
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Cheryl Rofer: That’s a terrible descriptor of Farkas. She was the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Russian And Eurasian Affairs.

  16. 16
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Cheryl Rofer: Mueller also likely had the Russian memo about the meeting via SIGINT when he questioned Prince.

  17. 17
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Jay: Prince’s PRC backed “logistics” company Frontier Services, is also one of the investors in the corporate shell that was spun off of Cambridge Analytica and SCL Group so that those knuckleheads could keep doing what it is they do. Including opening a satellite office for a subsidiary in Plano, TX that is already working with Brad Parscale.

  18. 18
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @khead: Sounds familiar.

  19. 19
    Raoul says:

    Id Trump strokes out, resigns or what have you, the unholy alliance of DeVos and Pence will be extra ugly. Gah.

  20. 20
    Raoul says:

    If = Id

    Time for bed! G’night, all.

  21. 21
    Dan B says:

    The stories of these families is chilling. They remain onsulated and immune to the stories of the people who will suffer from the effects of their ideology. We need well told stories of these people told in a way that will connect with people who sit on the fence and people who disconnect and refuse to vote, or even to engage politically in any way.

  22. 22
    What Have the Romans Ever Done for Us? says:

    My dad was a tenured professor at Grand Valley State University. It is not a “conservative” academic institution. Most of the student body comes from West Michigan, and since West Michigan is a bastion of christian conservatism, many of the students may be conservatives, but the University does not have a political bent of any kind. It’s not like Liberty University. My dad, for instance, has never once voted for a Republican since Eisenhower, and he may have been too young to vote for Ike. Besides which even if he did vote for Ike, I’d vote for Ike…he’d tell the modern day conservative movement to pound sand.

    Also, although Calvin is associated with the Christian Reformed church and is therefore more closely linked with conservatism, a large chunk of the student body are just non-partisan students or even liberal on many if not most issues. It’s probably more conservative than average, but again, not like Liberty.

  23. 23
    Dev Null says:

    @Cheryl Rofer: Thanks for the ‘splainer. I skimmed the Beast article yesterday when it came out. For some reason I was expecting a smoking gun… but there wasn’t one AFAICT. Most of the ‘news’ was old, and what was new didn’t shed much light.

    Your take – Russian outreach + setting up a backchannel – makes sense.

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