The government watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) has filed a lawsuit seeking Justice Department records of any communications between ex-Attorney General Bill Barr and Erik Prince, a GOP donor and co-founder of the private military company originally known as Blackwater. In 2007, Blackwater mercenaries opened fire on a crowded square in Iraq, killing 17 local civilians and wounding 20 more. As president, Donald Trump pardoned four individuals involved in that massacre.
Now, CREW says that they are “suing the DOJ for records on any meetings that Barr and Prince had since they could reveal potential preferential treatment for Trump’s allies in Department of Justice investigations.” The group notes that Prince faced the threat of a Justice Department investigation over lying to Congress in the course of the Russia investigation, and the Department has also apparently been concerned about whether Prince broke U.S. export laws — but neither of these investigations have visibly gone anywhere.
If Prince has been shielded from serious Justice Department scrutiny as an act of political favoritism, it wouldn’t be the first time that Trump allies at the department made moves to benefit backers of the former president. For instance, the department moved to entirely drop its case against ex-Trump adviser Michael Flynn, who had pleaded guilty to lying to federal investigators in the course of the Russia investigation. In the case of longtime Trump ally Roger Stone, who had been convicted on a slew of charges relating to obstruction of justice, higher-ups at the department intervened to lower the government’s original sentencing recommendation. Trump later pardoned Flynn and Stone.
One notable Trump ally who didn’t avoid serious Justice Department scrutiny during the Trump era is Matt Gaetz. Apparently, federal agents even seized his cellphone at one point last year as part of an ongoing investigation into issues including whether the Congressman was involved in child sex trafficking and prostitution. Joel Greenberg, a longtime Gaetz associate, is already in jail and facing charges including child sex trafficking, and a recent report from The New York Times said that Greenberg has already been providing information to authorities, including about Gaetz, in an effort to lessen his sentence.