Erik Prince, Perjury, and the Secret Trump Tower Meeting

Could Erik Prince really go to prison for perjuring himself before Congress?

Photo illustration: Soohee Cho/The Intercept, Al Jazeera

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Erik Prince, the founder and CEO of the world’s most notorious mercenary company, Blackwater, landed in hot water during a recent interview with Mehdi Hasan at the Oxford Union in the U.K. Prince repeatedly claimed to have disclosed an August 2016 meeting at Trump Tower to the House Intelligence Committee—a claim not backed up by the official transcripts of his testimony before Congress. On this week’s show, Mehdi Hasan speaks with Jeremy Scahill, author of “Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army,” about Prince’s career and possible future plans. Mehdi also speaks with Rep. Joaquin Castro, who sits on the House Intelligence Committee, about the possible fallout from Prince’s contradictory statements. The two also discuss Castro’s bill to cancel Trump’s emergency declaration, which will be taken up by the Senate this week.

Mehdi Hasan: Don’t you think that’s something important to disclose to the House Intelligence Committee while you’re under oath?

Erik Prince: I did.

MH: You didn’t. We just went through the testimony. There’s no mention of the Trump Tower meeting August 2016. Why not?

EP: I don’t know if they got the transcript wrong.

[Music interlude.]

MH: Welcome to Deconstructed. I’m Mehdi Hasan. This week the founder and former boss of the private security firm Blackwater — the controversial super mercenary and hardcore Trump supporter Erik Prince was back in the news after a rather lively interview that I did with him for my Al Jazeera English TV show. He could now be in a lot of trouble as my guest today, Congressman Joaquin Castro explains.

Joaquin Castro: Erik Prince like at least a few other witnesses, I think, were not fully honest with the House Intelligence Committee and perhaps other committees in the Congress. After I saw your interview, I do have to wonder what the legal consequences could be for Erik Prince.

MH: My Intercept colleague Jeremy Scahill also joins me on Deconstructed to unpack Prince’s ties to the Trump administration and to explain to us why all of this matters so much.

Jeremy Scahill: Erik Prince is a guy who has operated forces that have committed war crimes. And I think it would be a step forward to get him in any way you can into the crosshairs of prosecutors.

MH: So on today’s show: Erik Prince, perjury, and the secret Trump Tower meeting.

Ayman Mohyeldin: In a stunning back and forth between former Blackwater CEO Erik Prince and Al Jazeera host Mehdi Hasan, Prince was confronted about why he failed to tell Congress that he was at that meeting.

Chris Hayes: Apparently, Prince didn’t tell the House Intel Committee about that meeting in Trump Tower during the campaign.

Joy Reid: If Erik Prince lied to the Intelligence Committee about whether or not he was at a Trump Tower meeting discussing Iran policy, could be in some legal jeopardy?

Mimi Rocah: Absolutely.

MH: It’s been a bit of a crazy few days for me. I did an interview with Erik Prince, founder and former CEO of the world’s most notorious mercenary company, Blackwater; brother of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos; and big Trump donor. He spent something like a quarter of a million dollars helping get Trump elected in 2016. It’s an interview which has since landed Prince in some hot water, both politically and legally. Because he’s not just friends with Trump and Steve Bannon and others in that circle, but also with the Emiratis and the Saudis. And Robert Mueller, the Special Counsel in the Russia investigation has interviewed Prince, and gone through his cellphones and laptop, while the House Intelligence Committee took testimony from the former Blackwater boss in November 2017 — testimony at which he admitted to a secret meeting in the Seychelles, organized by the United Arab Emirates, with a close pal of Vladimir Putin’s, just nine days before Trump’s inauguration.

What he didn’t tell them was that before that, he had another secret meeting, at Trump Tower, on August 3rd, 2016, in the middle of the election campaign, three months before election day, a secret meeting with Don Jr., the rather dim-witted eldest son of the president; Stephen Miller; top Trump adviser and ally of white nationalists; George Nader, an emissary for the Saudi and Emirati crown princes; and Joel Zamel, the Israeli head of the rather dodgy private intelligence company Psy-Group.

So, on the latest episode of my Al Jazeera English show, “Head to Head,” filmed in front of a live audience at the Oxford Union in the UK, aside from asking Prince about alleged war crimes in Iraq by Blackwater employees and about his latest controversial plan to try and privatize the war in Afghanistan, I also asked him about that Trump Tower meeting and why he didn’t mention it to Congress – have a listen:

EP: I did as part of the investigations. I certainly disclosed any meetings. The very, very few I had —

MH: Not in the Congressional testimony you gave to the House. We went through it. You didn’t mention anything about August 2016 meeting in Trump Tower. They specifically asked you what contacts you had and you didn’t answer that.

EP: I don’t believe I was asked that question.

MH: You were asked were there any former communications or contact with the campaign, you said apart from writing papers, putting up yard signs, no. That’s what you said. I’ve got the transcript of the conversation here.

Erik Prince: Sure, I might’ve been — I think I was at Trump headquarters, or their campaign headquarters —

MH: Trump Tower, August 3rd, 2016.

EP: We were there to talk about Iran policy.

MH: You were there to talk about Iran policy?

EP: Mhmm.

MH: Don’t you think that’s something important to disclose to the House Intelligence Committee while you’re under oath?

EP: I did.

MH: You didn’t. We just went through the testimony. There’s no mention of the Trump Tower meeting in August 2016. Why not?

EP: I don’t know if they got the transcript wrong.

MH: As excuses go, ‘the transcript is wrong’ is right up there with the dog ate my homework. Let’s be clear: it’s a bullshit excuse.

Phillip Mena: A public transcript does show, Prince did not discuss information about that meeting in his testimony before the House Intel Committee.

Andrea Mitchell: They didn’t get the transcript wrong. The transcript is what it is.

Elliot Williams: When you are bickering about whether the transcript is correct, you have a credibility problem.

MH: Congressman Adam Schiff, the Democratic chair of the House Intelligence Committee, popped up on Meet The Press this past Sunday to respond to my interview with Prince and call him on his bullshit.

Adam Schiff: Well, he’s certainly not telling the truth in that interview. There’s nothing wrong with our transcript. There was nothing with the reporter who transcribed his testimony. He did not disclose that meeting to our committee. So, his interview certainly looks inconsistent with his testimony. Bob Mueller has that testimony already and Bob Mueller will have to make the decision about whether that rises to the level of deliberate falsehood.

MH: So, why does all of this matter? Well, number one, as Schiff pointed out there, Bob Mueller could charge Prince with perjury — lying to Congress under oath is a crime. And it does look like Prince lied to Congress, and then, of course lied to me about not lying to Congress. Though of course lying to me isn’t a crime. It’s just rude.

Number two, why is it that all of these Trump people keep getting caught lying about meetings with foreign governments, with Russians and the rest? Michael Flynn, George Papadopoulos, Rick Gates, Michael Cohen, Roger Stone, and now, perhaps, Erik Prince. Why the lies? What do they have to hide?

And number three, we often talk about collusion in the context only of Russia — but the Erik Prince meetings, at Trump Tower and in the Seychelles, they show, Gulf countries like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were as keen as the Russians to see a Trump, not a Clinton, presidency in 2016. Why? Many would say it’s because they want a war with Iran – and Prince told me that they were discussing “Iran policy,” him and Don Jr. and a representative of the Emiratis and the Saudis, in Trump Tower that day. Which is kinda scary. I mean, I suspect Don Jr. would struggle to find Iran on a map even if his life depended on it.

[Music interlude.]

MH: So, let’s dig a little deeper. On today’s show, I’ll be speaking to Congressman Joaquin Castro, of the House Intelligence Committee, about what happens now with Prince, and about his own headline-grabbing bill that this week aims to put a stop to President Trump’s ludicrous ‘national emergency.’ Remember that? But first, I’m joined by a journalist who has been following, documenting, exposing Erik Prince’s misdeeds for more than a decade now and literally wrote the book on Blackwater. Yes, my Intercept colleague, host of the Intercepted podcast, Jeremy Scahill.

[Music interlude.]

MH: Jeremy, thanks for joining me on Deconstructed. Great to have you on the show finally.

JS: Thank you, Mehdi and boy, did you put on a clinic there in the U.K. with Erik Prince.

MH: What do you make of Erik Prince’s response in his interview with me to that very simple question, I would argue, about why he didn’t tell the House Intelligence Committee about that secret meeting in Trump Tower?

JS: First of all, Erik Prince seldom has been subjected to the kind of real journalistic scrutiny face-to-face that you unleashed on him. So, I congratulate you for that. This is an incredibly slippery character who has repeatedly attempted to graymail the U.S. government by basically saying if you come after me, I’m going to tell the public or prosecutors where the bodies are buried in these various wars where you’ve contracted me to work for the CIA or the State Department or the Pentagon. But one sidebar of interesting kind of palace intrigue here, Mehdi is that Don Jr., I understand from sources, thinks that Erik Prince is like a mixture of you know, Rambo, Jason Bourne, and Oliver North and that it sort of ups their cool kid credibility to be around Erik Prince.

So, part of what was happening is that you have Erik Prince, comes from a very wealthy family, early on they decide that Trump is going to be their man. They start pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions. Erik Prince, and this story doesn’t get talked about enough, has been a longtime backer of Vice President Mike Pence. I don’t know that Donald Trump knew Erik Prince before the 2016 election cycle or he knew him well. Mike Pence certainly does. And the fact that this meeting that you’re questioning Erik Prince about was centered around Iran policy. And we know that Mike Pence and now John Bolton is in power and Mike Pompeo — these guys ultimately want war with Iran. And Erik Prince was a guy who could help them in a kind of, off the books way, put some things in motion before Trump even took power so that they could move forward with a very hawkish aggressive plan on Iran. And what was amazing to me about your interview, Mehdi, is that Erik Prince refused to say that he has any aspiration to do anything regarding Iran. His entire career indicates that he has viewed Iran as a regime that must be brought down by any means necessary covert and overt. So, at best he was obfuscating with you. But you know, more likely, he was just lying to your face because he thinks he’s above the law.

MH: What’s so amazing is that he volunteered to me that the meeting was about “Iran policy” as if that somehow makes it less suspicious, less controversial. As you say, here is a guy with a hawkish record on Iran, founder of a mercenary company in a secret meeting in Trump Tower with the Republican presidential candidate’s idiot son Don Jr., his white nationalist adviser Stephen Miller, neither of whom are foreign policy experts, and they’re joined by a representative for the Emiratis and the Saudis and the Israeli head of a social media company. I was on MSNBC on Sunday talking about all this and the host, Ayman Mohyeldin, asked me if I was surprised with his answer to my question about the Trump Tower meeting, about you know, the transcript nonsense, and I kind of was surprised because he had nearly 18 months to come up with a good excuse for why he didn’t tell Congress about the secret meeting with Don Jr. and co. And he went with the ludicrous “maybe they got the transcript wrong.” What is that, Jeremy? Is that arrogance? Is that ignorance? What is that?

JS: Well, you know, I think what Prince also was alluding to there is this notion that Erik Prince believes that the reason that the Washington Post got that story on his meeting with Kirill Dmitriev in Seychelles is because his telephone was being illicitly, illegally tapped by some entity of U.S. intelligence under Obama. And so, if you look carefully at that transcript, Prince keeps saying I’ll tell you about this in private. I have former CIA people that have told me that I was improperly unmasked. He truly views himself as this misunderstood hybrid of Captain America, Indiana Jones, tied in with a little spice of Oliver North. He really views himself in that way. And when you questioned him about his calling of Iraqis “barbarians at the gate,” that was just the tip of the iceberg in the clear Islamophobic hatred, violent hatred, that has fueled Erik Prince’s time at the helm of Blackwater and as a mercenary kingpin. It’s been hatred of Muslims.

MH: Let’s play that clip.

MH [in interview]: You, yourself have referred to the people your men were fighting in Iraq as barbarians who crawled out of the sewer. You say in your memoir “These were the chanting barbarians American troops have been sent to liberate.”

EP: Sure. People that think it’s okay to drive a car bomb into the middle of a square, in the marketplace to attempt to kill an American and in doing so, they kill dozens and dozens of civilians, absolutely, that’s barbaric.

MH: Which is true. I think if you’re referring to terrorists, you call them whatever you want but you said “These were the chanting barbarians American troops have been sent to liberate.” You weren’t sent to liberate terrorists. Sounds like you’re talking about Iraqis.

EP: Look —

MH: It’s from your words, from your memoir.

EP: The decision, the decision of Iraq —

[Crowd cheers.]

MH: Jeremy, you, of course, were the guy who first exposed the leaked audio of him referring to Iraqis as barbarians. Before he owned himself in his own memoir —

EP: Not just Iraqis, Mehdi, he was talking about people in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan as barbarians who crawled out of the sewer.

MH: That’s true. And then in his book, he refers to Iraqis which is the quote I used in that clip. And here’s what’s interesting — no one has ever called him out on this. That’s why I felt I had to ask the question. He goes on MSNBC, the BBC, CNN, whatever. No one points out that this is a guy, as you say, with this kind of rabid views of non-white people in the Middle East who he wants to go and apparently save.

JS: Right. And also, in that speech he, Erik Prince said that Iran is “at the absolute dead center of badness,” and it’s been clear that this has been part of Erik Prince’s agenda for a very long time that Iran is the real target and we need to take that regime down.

MH: And yet, now, he wants to do it all again in Afghanistan. That’s the reason he’s back in the news. People keep saying to me, why did he agree to come on your show? And I honestly, don’t know but I suspect it has to do with this new plan that he’s hawking to try and privatize the war in Afghanistan with the Trump administration and he’s trying to get publicity for that. And he came on the show to talk about that but it’s so bizarre that as you say, this guy with this record in Iraq, in Afghanistan, with these views now thinks he’s the guy to end the war in Afghanistan with mercenaries.

JS: Right, and he likes to draw up the imagery of the Soviet experience in Afghanistan and saying that the United States doesn’t want to replicate that and that the Afghan people don’t. So, our solution is sort of the most elegant. You know, Erik Prince is very fond of saying that the military is run like the U.S. Post Office and Blackwater is run like FedEx — that if you really want a package to get somewhere are you going to send it through the post office — actually parenthetically, Mehdi, I would send it to the post office. Or do you want to send it FedEx? So, that’s his offering but I’ll share with you a little bit of the weeds here on this issue. I have a theory. I can’t prove this but I have a theory, based on talking to people close to Erik Prince and some people within the Trump administration, that part of what Erik Prince is doing is using the public facade of “I want to help solve the war in Afghanistan with private forces” to justify meetings with the Trump administration about other things, like his offering of a privatized security force.

Erik Prince has a track record of using one form of his business such as providing diplomatic security to facilitate the secretive never to be made public operations that Blackwater is running for the CIA or potentially for the Trump Organization itself and I’m not saying the Trump administration. I’m saying we should be asking serious questions about what kind of arrangements Erik Prince made with Donald Trump Jr.

MH: That’s a good question, especially with Joel Zamel was in that meeting, who runs this psyops firm that The New Yorker recently exposed for having spying on academics and students on U.S. campuses using former Israeli intelligence people. There’s a very shady, dark area —

JS: Well, pay attention, pay attention to The Intercept’s forthcoming reporting on some of this, Mehdi —

MH: Indeed.

JS: — Because I think we’re going to get a fuller picture not just of Erik Prince’s views of foreign wars but his views on how domestic political opponents of the president should be handled and how he may be able to help with that and that’s all I want to say about that.

MH: Jeremy, just finally, do you think Erik Prince, the man who has been accused of war crimes, of sanctions busting, of illegal arms sales, do you think he might actually go to prison for perjury of all things?

JS: I think given the make up politically of the Congress right now that it’s possible that Adam Schiff and the Intelligence Committee are going to really go to town on trying to secure a perjury prosecution of Erik Prince. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are people within the Justice Department who have been following Erik Prince’s career for a very long time who are aiming much higher than perjury. The question is how strong are Erik Prince’s ties to the CIA and other U.S. intelligence. And is he going to expose things they don’t want out if the government goes after him. It’s a legitimate question. It’s the same kind of questions people asked about Al Capone and mafia kingpins — what are the costs of prosecuting this individual? If Eric Prince goes down for perjury, yeah, it’s like Al Capone. But I wouldn’t rule out Erik Prince being one of the people that takes the big hit from the criminal Trump era.

He could end up being a kind of scapegoat in a way. To say, “ah, a lot of this was Erik Prince.” But I, also, I think that we have to keep our eyes on the prize. Erik Prince is a guy who has operated forces that have committed war crimes. He has engaged in all sorts of questionable dealings with the Chinese government with Chinese intelligence. There are investigations into money laundering. The crimes are vast and I think it would be a step forward to get him in any way you can into the crosshairs of prosecutors. But it’s important we not lose sight of the biggest crimes that he was responsible for which is the wanton slaughtering of people that are in Iraq, Afghanistan, elsewhere.

MH: Jeremy, thanks so much for joining me on Deconstructed.

JS: Thank you, Mehdi. I mean, you always teach the Ph.D. course in how to question the powerful and I stand in awe and admiration of you.

MH: Appreciate it, my friend.

[Music interlude.]

MH: That was my colleague Jeremy Scahill, host of Intercepted and author of “Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army.” Will Prince really go to prison for perjuring himself in front of Congress? Well that depends partly on what the House Intelligence Committee does next, and one of the most outspoken Democratic members of that committee is Congressman Joaquin Castro of Texas.

Representative Castro has been in the news himself this week as he’s the driving force behind a new Congressional resolution aimed at blocking and ending the national emergency that President Trump ludicrously declared last month, which passed in the House and will be voted on in the Senate on Thursday — maybe even as you’re listening to this show.

He’s also the chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and the identical twin brother of Julian Castro, who is one of the many Democrats running for president in 2020. Earlier this week, I went to see Joaquin Castro in his office on Capitol Hill to talk Erik Prince, his anti-emergency bill, the prospects for impeaching Trump, and what it’s like to have a twin brother running for president.

[Music interlude.]

MH: Congressman, thanks for joining me on Deconstructed.

JC: Yeah, thank you for having me.

MH: You sit on the House Intelligence Committee. You were there in November 2017 when former Blackwater boss and Trump ally Erik Prince testified in front of the committee. Prince told me on Al Jazeera that he told you and your colleagues about the Trump Tower meeting that he had in 2016. But Adam Schiff, chair of your committee, says he didn’t. Prince says you guys got your transcript wrong. Schiff says you did it. What do you make of this narrative that you’re now hearing from Erik Prince having been there in 2017 when he was testifying?

JC: You know, Erik Prince like at least a few other witnesses I think, were not fully honest with the House Intelligence Committee and perhaps other committees in the Congress about different events related to President Trump and the campaign and the Trump organization. And when I saw your interview I was amazed, first of all, that you got him to concede that he may not have been fully honest with Congress. The reason I say that I was I was amazed or surprised is because when he came in and testified to us, first of all, he came in with no lawyer. When you think about the stakes of that interview for any witness —

MH: Confident man.

JC: Exactly, yes.

MH: Misplaced confidence.

JC: And I remember that he carried with him, except for maybe Corey Lewandowski, probably the worst attitude of a witness, you know, in the 70 interviews that we did or whatever it was and he was very confident in his answers. You could tell that he was stonewalling on a lot of important questions about the Seychelles meeting, for example and other things. So, yeah I mean, after I saw your interview I do have to wonder what the legal consequences could be for Erik Prince.

MH: Yes, Adam Schiff talked about Robert Mueller having his testimony and already looking at it whether he looks at it again in light of what he said to me on Friday on Al Jazeera. I mean, it would be ironic. Erik Prince is a guy who’s been accused of all sorts of shady things and even war crimes in Iraq, things he’s denied or stuff he settled out of court — It’d be ironic if he ends up in prison on perjury for lying to Congress of all crimes.

JC: That certainly would be ironic for him to be charged with it. But that’s quite possible.

MH: Is that something your committee can do or is it only something Muller can do?

JC: Yeah, that’s another interesting thing, you know. We talk about all these investigations — the House investigation, the Senate investigation, of course, the Mueller investigation — but really, the Mueller investigation is the only one that can lead to prosecutions.

MH: But from your perspective just as a member of the committee, not from a legal perspective, you think he lied to you?

JC: Yes.

MH: One of your colleagues, Eric Swalwell, before I did my interview with Erik Prince, told Rolling Stone magazine he didn’t think Prince was being honest and he wanted to see him subpoenaed if necessary and re-called to the House Intelligence Committee. Is that something you’d support?

JC: Yeah, I would absolutely like for the House Intelligence Committee to bring back Erik Prince for a second interview. And I think the interview that you did with him, you know, gives us even more reason to do it because it seemed to be clear that he wasn’t fully honest with us.

MH: And maybe the second time you should have like two transcripts done.

JC: You know what’s weird is the transcript is actually sent to the witness to review to make sure that everything in there is correct. You’re given an opportunity. If it’s not sent to you, you’re made aware that you’re able to come review the transcript so that you can correct the record if anything’s wrong.

MH: And when you hear him say — he said to me that the meeting at Trump Tower was about Iran policy, how much does that worry you given how hawkish — we know the Trump administration is on Iran, John Bolton is on Iran, Mike Pompeo is on Iran. We know the Saudis, Emirates would love a conflict with Iran. George Nader, this so-called emissary of the Saudis, EmiratIs, was at this Trump Tower meeting with Prince, with Don Jr. It’s kind of worrying they’re having a discussion about something so important in private.

JC: You’re right. But I don’t even know if they were actually talking about Iran policy, right? Because well, I mean think about it, the first meeting in Trump Tower that didn’t include Erik Prince was Don Jr., I think, Paul Manafort, Jared Kushner, and others meeting with Russians who we now know wanted to offer dirt or Don Jr. was seeking —

MH: It was a meeting about adoptions —

JC: Well that’s what I’m saying, there was another policy front right for what was going on.

MH: A less contentious one of adoption. He went with Iran.

JC: Which is a more obviously, more controversial thing. So, now a few months later then, you’re having another meeting in Trump Tower, this time purportedly about Iran policy but then also with somebody from the Psy-Group, I believe.

MH: Joel Zamel.

JC: Right.

MH: Israeli dude.

JC: Who may also have you know, sought to basically interfere in the 2016 elections.

MH: And that’s what’s interesting. We hear so much about interference in the elections from politicians, from pundits, from MSNBC, from hashtag resistance about Russia, Russia, Russia, Russia. What’s interesting and I hope — we’ll have to see if we ever see this Mueller report — what about the other governments who seem so keen on getting a Trump presidency over a Clinton presidency, the Emiratis, the Saudis, even the Israelis to an extent.

JC: Yeah, I think you’re right.

MH: It’s more than one foreign country.

JC: No, absolutely. And you’re right and we should take a full look at all, everything that was done by every nation that interfered at various levels. I think the Russia one is the most prominent because of the history between the United States and Russia, because I think Russia was probably the most aggressive about it and shameless about it and also because Russia, as far as I can remember, I could be wrong, but I think Russia was the only one that Donald Trump stood up in front of thousands of people and said “Russia, if you’re listening, you know, find the 30,000 e-mails from Hillary Clinton.”

MH: Now he says he was joking. He was just joking. He always says crazy things to hide behind. Let’s talk about Donald Trump. Let’s talk about your bill to stop Donald Trump’s national emergency declaration. We’re in the middle of a national emergency, I’m sure many people are aware. As I walk down the street, I see emergency everywhere. Break it down for us. What is it about, your bill? What does it do? There’s going to be this big vote on Thursday in the Senate. If you’re listening to this podcast, a vote may already have happened by the time you listen to it. But there’s going to be a big vote in the Senate. What does your bill do?

JC: Well, you know, now about two months ago, the rumors started that President Trump might use the National Emergencies Act, a law from the 1970s, to declare a national emergency to build his border wall and to use money from other pots basically to fund his border wall. So, my staff and I began working with the Legislative Council at that point to try to find a way to allow Congress a say on the issue. What we came up with is H.J. res. 46. So, it passed in the House 245 to 182. And it goes to the Senate this week. I expect that we get about 54 votes. Obviously, still very tough because if the president vetoes it —

MH: I think four Republicans have said at this point and we’re speaking to you on Tuesday.

JC: Right, and then a handful have basically indicated that they’re uncomfortable with the idea of the president declaring a national emergency.

MH: Doesn’t mean they’ll vote with you.

JC: That’s true.

MH: We know that the default Republican position is always to be uncomfortable about Trump.

JC: I understand and that’s why there’s probably about eight of them that express reservations. I’m counting on about three of them that actually vote no. That’s how I get to about 54.

MH: You were already talking about impeachment one month into the Trump presidency back in 2017 when there were reports that U.S. Customs and Border Protection have been told to ignore a court ruling halting his travel ban. Last December, you said that if Trump weren’t president “he’d be in court right now.” In January of this year, you said he should be impeached if it came to light that he had directed Michael Cohen to lie to Congress as Buzzfeed were reporting at the time. Yet in comparison to you, a lot of your fellow congressional Democrats are very cautious, very hesitant on the issue of impeachment. Why do you think that is?

JC: Yeah, no, you’re right. Look, there are things that this president has done and then sitting on the Intelligence Committee, I believe that he has committed impeachable offenses particularly around the area of obstruction of justice. Put aside the collusion stuff for a second, the money laundering stuff, on obstruction of justice directly related to his role as commander in chief.

MH: Are you referring to the FBI, the firing of James Comey?

JC: Start with James Comey but you know, Andrew McCabe and other other witness tampering, I would call it. But yes, some folks have expressed reservations. And look, I can understand that because removing a president, impeachment is the most serious thing that you can undertake in a democracy. You’re talking about a person that was elected by the people, right? So you never do that lightly. And so, I think at a minimum people want to wait and see what comes out of that Mueller report. And all of the claims that are laid out and factually backed up. And I think that’s fair.

MH: I think it’s fair. But when you talk about the Mueller report, I always feel like it’s a bit of a deflection. When Congressman Jerry Nadler, for example, head of the House Judiciary Committee says to The New York Times “Yes, we have unambiguous evidence that the president has committed a crime at this point,” and then adds “Do we have unambiguous evidence he has done impeachable offenses? We’ve got a ways to go yet.” What does that even mean? Surely, a criminal offense is an impeachable offense otherwise, I mean, words have no meaning.

JC: I didn’t, I didn’t see that interview with Jerry so I can’t describe that but I think that he obstructed justice. I think the president has obstructed justice.

MH: And that’s an impeachable offense, regardless of what Bob Mueller says about collusion in Russia.

JC: Oh, I believe so. Now, but there is an important distinction to draw here and I think this is where a lot of people are getting caught up and I mentioned it yesterday. There is a difference between a president having committed impeachable offenses and actually having the votes to impeach a president. And I think in that disconnect is where you’re finding different voices there trying to figure it out.

MH: What do you say to people who say “Well there’s no point in a house impeaching because the Senate wouldn’t go along with conviction?” Is that a valid argument?

JC: I think it’s an argument that’s probably concerned about politics. You know, I think that people are probably concerned about what happened to Republicans in 1998 going after Bill Clinton. And in a sense, it strengthened him electorally. And many Democrats don’t want to see the same thing happen this time.

MH: It was a very different situation in so many ways.

JC: Oh yes, there’s a lot more here than there was back in ’88.

MH: And public support in a way there wasn’t then. I mean, Speaker Pelosi grabbed the headlines this week by saying in her interview that she doesn’t think impeaching Trump and dividing the country is worth it. She’s basically taken impeachment off the table.

JC: Well, she said for now, right? That was part of her answer, at least from what I read.

MH: She ended it, she added a caveat which was you need to have bipartisan support. You’re never going to have bipartisan support for impeachment. This is not the Nixon era. So, therefore you have taken it off the table if that’s one of your criteria.

JC: Yeah, look I mean, ultimately Nancy Pelosi as speaker gets to decide whether it moves forward or not.

MH: Do you agree with her?

JC: For me, I would wait for that report and see everything that’s in that report and then make a decision. Yeah, I mean that’s where we are.

MH: But in terms of saying “Well, it’s not worth dividing the country. It’s not worth it.” Some would argue the opposite. It’s not worth leaving this man in office knowing what you know he’s committed and done and could do —

JC: You make a good point. I was telling somebody earlier that — I think it was somebody that wrote in to me because of the debate today right about Speaker Pelosi comments, the comments that others have made. And this person wrote to me saying listen I hear that, but by not doing anything, you’re also setting a bad precedent because then a future president you know, he or she can decide hey, I can do all this stuff and then there’s not going to be any kind of repercussions for that. It is tough because I do think, like I said, I think he has obstructed justice.

MH: But you’re in the camp that says, is more to put it crudely, is okay with impeachment, open to the idea of impeachment than the candidate who says this is too hard.

JC: Yeah but I’m open to it, yeah.

MH: Yeah, I mean the argument is it’s in the Constitution. If you don’t use it for Trump, you might as well take it out. Who’s it for if it’s not for this president? That’s the weirdness I find. I know you can’t talk about politics in this building.

JC: That’s right. We’re in my office here.

MH: I’m not going to ask you about how you’re voting or who you’re endorsing but I’m — for the listeners, your twin brother Julian Castro is running for president and you are identical twins.

JC: Yeah.

MH: And I wrote a book about the Miliband brothers in the UK. Ed Miliband was leader of the labor party and they heavily clashed. He and David Miliband when they ran and they never recovered. Their relationship is ruined as brothers. They don’t have Christmas together. Their mother meets them separately, whole family fell apart. How do you and your brother avoid stuff like that?

JC: We’re on a little bit better terms than that.

MH: I hope they stay that way but I’m just wondering as two brothers who have been in politics for much of your adult life in different streams — he was never in Congress. He was in the Obama administration. He was a mayor. How have you grappled with that as a family and as brothers?

JC: I mean, we’ve done really well. You know, we’ve both been in politics as you mentioned, my brother since 2001 really and myself since 2002. But we’ve always been each other’s biggest supporters. We’ve taken a different routes in politics. He was on city council, mayor, and then HUD secretary. I was in the state legislature, now in Congress.

MH: Did you have to toss coin to decide who gets to run for president first?

JC: No, I let him do that. He’s more interested at this point in running for president than I am. But yeah, no, I’ll be fascinated to see his journey through this.

MH: Did you grow the beard that our listeners can’t see to differentiate yourself from him?

JC: Yeah, do you like the beard? I mean you’ve got the fu manchu.

MH: Yeah I’ve got the goatee. I can’t grow facial hair. I struggle. I’m like 12 years old. Was yours a deliberate, kind of, don’t confuse me for the guy who’s running with the 25 other people for president.

JC: His announcement I said, look, I’ll either grow a beard, get a mohawk, do something, shave my head, whatever. So, I grow a beard, right, and the weird thing is that there’s

still some people that come up to me and say, think that it’s my brother running for president who just grew a beard.

MH: To be different.

JC: So I don’t know if there’s really anything I can do at this point.

MH: Here’s a constitutional question for you or a legal question there’s never been twin brothers obviously running in this way — if he were to become president does that mean you get Secret Service protection, as well because people will think you’re the president?

JC: I better!

MH: You’re like a body double, a literal body double. Outside of a dictatorship.

JC: It would be dangerous for me to be walking around, right, if he was president or even vice president without somebody to help out.

MH: Congressman, good luck with the vote on Thursday. Thank you for joining me on Deconstructed.

JC: Thanks for having me.

[Music interlude.]

MH: That was Congressman Joaquin Castro. Will Erik Prince face the consequences for the lies that he seems to have told both the House Intelligence Committee and me in my interview with him? I guess time, and Mueller, will tell. And look, I don’t know why he agreed to do an interview with me but I’m glad he did.

[Music interlude.]

MH: That’s our show! Deconstructed is a production of First Look Media and The Intercept. Our producer is Zach Young. Dina Sayedahmed is our production assistant. The show was mixed by Bryan Pugh. Leital Molad is our executive producer. Our theme music was composed by Bart Warshaw. Betsy Reed is The Intercept’s editor in chief.

And I’m Mehdi Hasan. You can follow me on Twitter @mehdirhasan. If you haven’t already, please subscribe to the show so you can hear it every week. Go to to subscribe from your podcast platform of choice, iPhone, Android, whatever. If you’re subscribed already, please do leave us a rating or review – it helps new people find the show. And if you want to give us feedback, email us at Thanks so much!

See you next week.

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