A U.S. Congresswoman today accused Erik Prince, the founder of the scandal-ridden, now-defunct private security firm Blackwater, of attempting to intimidate her to keep her from speaking out against the private security industry and Prince in particular.
Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D.-Ill., took the House floor today to present a letter she received a month before from an attorney representing Prince in which the attorney accused Schakowsky of making "false and defamatory statements" against Prince, abusing her Congressional power and implied legal consequences.
Calling the letter a "heavy-handed tactic" by Prince, Schakowsky told ABC News the message was clear. "Basically what they're saying is, 'Stop talking about us. We don't want you to talk about us' and [they're] starting to threaten."
"Maybe Ms. Schakowsky should brush up on her kindergarten-level reading skills," Mark Corallo, a spokesperson for Prince, told ABC News. Corallo said the letter is specific and only asks Schakowsky to "cease making false allegations of criminality against an American citizen."
The letter takes issue with an interview Schakowsky gave to Guy Adams, a reporter for the London-based newspaper The Independent, in September in which Schakowsky allegedly said that Prince had emigrated to the United Arab Emirates and that if he hadn't "he too would now be facing prosecution."
"Your statement to Mr. Adams, which imputes commission of a crime is per se libelous," the letter says. "The facts you assert about Mr. Prince show complete reckless regard for the truth... Mr. Prince has never committed nor ever been charged with any crime."
Though before its dissolution Blackwater suffered a string of high-profile scandals -- from high level indictments over allegations of illegal weapon exports to employees accused of outright murder -- Prince was never personally charged with a crime. A civil suit against Prince concerning government billing was dismissed in June.
Schakowsky, who did not bring up the Independent article in her presentation on the House floor, told ABC News that she never made the comment, which was paraphrased in the original report. Adams, the article's author, told ABC News he was "flabbergasted" Schakowsky would deny making the comment and said that Schakowsky had read the article shortly after its posting and never mentioned any misquote. A representative for Schakowsky said the congresswoman didn't notice the line until the letter came pointing it out.
Beyond the comment in the Independent, the letter to Schakowsky broadly criticizes her for what it said was her "malice [that] cannot be questioned."
"You have a multi-year history of making derogatory comments about Mr. Prince and his former company, Blackwater. You have abused your Congressional power to request that Mr. Prince be investigated," the letter says. "Your caprice in making a false and defamatory statement about criminal culpability is particularly galling in light of your husband's guilty plea to federal fraud and his time in prison." Schakowsky's husband, Robert Creamer, was indicted in 2004 on federal charges for check-kiting that defrauded banks out of $2.3 million and served five months in prison, according to a report by The Associated Press.
Schakowsky: Letter an 'Effort to Keep Me Quiet'
Schakowsky said she saw the letter's pointed references to her past criticism of Prince and Blackwater and to her husband's legal troubles clearly as an attempt to make her stand down in her vocal opposition to the private security industry.
"They wanted to make it very clear to me that they would fight right back and bring up statements about my husband. This too was an effort to keep me quiet and it won't and it hasn't," she said. "They wanted to get very personal. That's the kind of fight they want."
The letter also criticizes Schakowsky for allegedly saying Prince emigrated to the United Arab Emirates. Though the New York Times reported in August 2010 Prince had moved to Abu Dubai, Corallo said Prince remains a U.S. citizen, keeps several homes in the U.S. and was in country only a couple weeks ago. Prince went to the UAE that August -- in the midst of the legal action against many high-level Blackwater officials -- for business, Corallo said.
The letter specifically says that since her words were printed abroad, Schakowsky is subject to defamation laws in those lands as well. In the United Kingdom, where the Independent is printed, libel laws are more favorable to the plaintiff than in the U.S.