Watchdog to Congress: Investigate Possible DeVos Involvement in Teachers’ Union Spying Scheme
“What did Devos Know and When did she know it?”
Washington D.C. – Following the bombshell revelation in the New York Times that Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ brother Erik Prince “helped recruit former American and British spies for secretive intelligence-gathering operations that included infiltrating” the Michigan office of American Federation of Teachers, Accountable.US, a non-partisan government watchdog, sent letters to Chair and Ranking Member of the House Committee on Oversight urging an immediate investigation to answer the question: What did the Secretary know and when did she know it? The full text of the letter from Accountable.US President Kyle Herrig is included below (a PDF version with footnotes is available online.)
“Did Betsy DeVos coordinate, fund or encourage her brother, Project Veritas, or any other group to infiltrate the Michigan chapter of the American Federation of Teachers and engage in furtive tactics that included photocopying documents and removing them from the organization? Are there other efforts DeVos has participated in or asked her brother to undertake to help her push her agenda behind the scenes?,” Herrig asks in the letter encouraging the House Committee on Oversight to investigate.
The letter points to DeVos’ adversarial history with the teachers’ union — particularly the Michigan chapter — and her family’s record of funding outside groups that smear public education and its advocates. Analysis from Allied Progress, a project of Accountable.US, found Project Veritas, the right-wing ‘sting’ organization that worked with Prince, has taken nearly $5 million from a conservative ‘donor-advised fund’ that has received at least $2.5 million from the DeVos family.
FULL TEXT OF THE LETTER:
March 10, 2020
Honorable Carolyn Maloney
Chairwoman, U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Reform
2157 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515
Honorable Jim Jordan
Ranking Member, U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Reform
2157 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515
Re: Investigating Betsy DeVos’ Role In Spying Scheme Against a Teachers’ Union
Dear Chairwoman Maloney and Ranking Member Jordan:
On behalf of Accountable.US, a non-partisan government watchdog, I write to you with an urgent request that you investigate whether Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos involved herself in efforts to recruit former intelligence officers to spy on the activities of the American Federation of Teachers.
The New York Times reported on March 7th that Secretary DeVos’ brother, Erik Prince of Blackwater infamy, “has in recent years helped recruit former American and British spies for secretive intelligence-gathering operations that included infiltrating… labor organizations and other groups considered hostile to the Trump agenda, according to interviews and documents.”
Reports further indicate that “one of the former spies, an ex-MI6 officer named Richard Seddon, helped run a 2017 operation to copy files and record conversations in a Michigan office of the American Federation of Teachers, one of the largest teachers’ unions in the nation.”
The operations were undertaken by Project Veritas, a right-wing group with a lengthy history of engaging in so-called “stings” against their political opponents, and which DeVos’ brother has hosted at the Prince family ranch.
During her tenure as Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos has been openly hostile to teachers’ unions, accusing them of having a “stranglehold on many of the politicians in this country.” Additionally, DeVos and her husband have previously funded at least one organization in Michigan which targeted unionized teachers with advertising campaigns and encouraged them to drop out of their unions.
Furthermore, Betsy DeVos and her husband have continued to contribute large amounts from their personal foundation to ideologically conservative groups during her tenure as Education Secretary. The DeVos Family has also given at least $2.5 million to DonorsTrust, a pass-through organization that has funded Project Veritas.
The involvement of DeVos’ brother in this scheme to spy on a labor organization in their shared home state of Michigan raises serious questions about what role the Education Secretary played in it, particularly in light of DeVos’ history of hostility with the same union.
Did Betsy DeVos coordinate, fund or encourage her brother, Project Veritas or any other group to infiltrate the Michigan chapter of the American Federation of Teachers and engage in furtive tactics that included photocopying documents and removing them from the organization? Are there other efforts DeVos has participated in or asked her brother to undertake to help her push her agenda behind the scenes?
A spokesperson for DeVos has denied her involvement, claiming the Secretary “has absolutely nothing to do with this,” but it stretches the imagination to the breaking point to believe her brother never at least mentioned his intel operation to her. At the end of the day, who would benefit more from this ill-gotten information than the Education Secretary at war with the union?
We believe it is in the best interest of America’s children, parents, and teachers for them to understand exactly what steps Betsy DeVos has taken behind the scenes to try to discredit teachers’ unions who advocate for strong public schools. If she played any hand in these dirty tricks, it would confirm that there is nothing she will not to do to undermine public education in America in pursuit of her privatization agenda. The President and his cabinet are not above the law. This case demands your committee’s careful scrutiny and if wrongdoing is found in the Trump Education Department, all those involved must be held accountable.
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