On Tuesday, education secretary nominee Betsy DeVos faced intense questioning by Democratic senators during her confirmation hearing. DeVos is a longtime backer of charter schools and vouchers for private and religious schools. She and her husband have also invested in a student debt collection agency that does business with the Education Department. On Tuesday, DeVos was repeatedly questioned over her role in her family’s foundations, which have poured millions of dollars into funding private Christian schools and anti-LGBT organizations, including the groups Focus on the Family and the Family Research Council, which the Southern Poverty Law Center has listed as a hate group. During her testimony, DeVos claimed she had nothing to do with the family’s Prince Foundation, even claiming that multiple federal tax filings listing her as the foundation’s vice president were incorrect.
AMY GOODMAN: On Tuesday, education secretary nominee Betsy DeVos faced intense questioning by Democratic senators during her confirmation hearing. DeVos is a longtime backer of charter schools and vouchers for private and religious schools. She and her husband have also invested in a student debt collection agency that does business with the Education Department. Her brother is Erik Prince, founder of the mercenary firm Blackwater.
On Tuesday, DeVos was repeatedly questioned over her role in her family’s foundations, which have poured millions of dollars, if not tens of millions or hundreds of millions, into funding private Christian schools and anti-LGBT organizations, including the groups Focus on the Family and the Family Research Council, which the Southern Poverty Law Center has listed as a hate group. This is New Hampshire Senator Maggie Hassan.
SEN. MAGGIE HASSAN: I understand that there is a foundation, the Edgar and Elsa Prince Foundation, which I take it is a foundation named for your parents. Is that correct?
BETSY DEVOS: It’s my mother’s foundation, yes.
SEN. MAGGIE HASSAN: It’s your mother’s foundation. And you sit on the board.
BETSY DEVOS: I do not.
SEN. MAGGIE HASSAN: You do not?
BETSY DEVOS: No.
SEN. MAGGIE HASSAN: OK. So when it made its over $5 million donation to Focus on the Family, you didn’t know anything about it.
BETSY DEVOS: My mother makes the decisions for her foundation.
AMY GOODMAN: Later in the confirmation hearing, Senator Hassan again questioned DeVos about her role in the family foundation.
SEN. MAGGIE HASSAN: I just wanted to clarify the issue about whether you were on the board of your mother’s foundation. I have 990s up through 2013 where you’re listed as the vice president and a board member. So, was that just a mistake on your part?
BETSY DEVOS: That was a clerical error. I can assure you I have never made decisions on my mother’s behalf on her foundation board.
SEN. MAGGIE HASSAN: So the listing that you were the vice president of the board is incorrect.
BETSY DEVOS: That is incorrect.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s education secretary nominee Betsy DeVos being questioned by New Hampshire Senator Maggie Hassan during Tuesday’s confirmation hearing. Federal tax filings show DeVos was listed as the foundation’s vice president for several years. Meanwhile, DeVos’s brother, Erik Prince, has been quietly advising Trump’s transition team, including helping vet Cabinet picks. That’s according to a former senior U.S. official who spoke to The Intercept's Jeremy Scahill. On election night, Prince's wife, Stacy DeLuke, even posted pictures from inside Trump’s campaign headquarters.
Well, joining us now is investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill, who has closely covered the Prince and DeVos families for years. His most recent article about Betsy DeVos’s brother is headlined “Notorious Mercenary Erik Prince Is Advising Trump from the Shadows.” Jeremy will be the host of a new weekly podcast, Intercepted, which premieres January 25th. You can subscribe on iTunes and other platforms.
Jeremy, talk about Betsy DeVos.
JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, I mean, first of all, let’s put this in context. Betsy DeVos is Erik Prince’s brother and comes from an incredibly wealthy family in western Michigan. They basically run the city of Holland, Michigan. She and Erik’s father built up a company that later, when he died, was sold to Johnson Controls for $1.6 billion in cash. Erik Prince goes off and starts Blackwater with his share of the money. But Betsy married Dick DeVos, who is the heir to the Amway corporation’s fortune, the people that own the Orlando Magic basketball team. Those two families together in the 1990s gave the seed money to what became known as the radical religious right in the United States. They gave the money to Gary Bauer and the Family Research Council, to James Dobson and Focus on the Family. They poured some $200 million into Republican campaigns. In addition to that, they had—so, on the one hand, they were engaged in the legalized form of bribery that exists in this country through campaign contributions, but then they also were giving money to extremist, hateful organizations masquerading as Christian groups. But these are really hateful people that if you actually read the Sermon on the Mount, for instance, in the gospels, you find almost nothing of Jesus’s teachings in what these people do.
But Betsy DeVos and her husband, Dick DeVos, they really took up the mantle of radical privatization of education as their primary cause. And they’ve stated—Betsy DeVos herself has stated that her vision of public education or of education in the U.S. is to bring the kingdom of God. I don’t know if Betsy DeVos has read the First Amendment, but what she wants to do—to the U.S. Constitution, but what she wants to do is to funnel public funds into religious schools.
Now, what Senator Hassan was focused in on is pretty incredible. I would say directly that Betsy DeVos lied in her testimony to the Senate, because she tried to imply, repeatedly, that she has nothing to do with her very extreme right-wing mother’s foundation. And when Hassan rightly asked her, you know, “Aren’t you an official in this foundation?” Betsy DeVos said no. I started then tweeting about it. I posted excerpts of the 990 tax forms that the foundation filed. And then Maggie Hassan returned to the hearing, even though Lamar Alexander, the Republican chair of the committee—most of the hearing was dominated, actually, by Lamar Alexander trying to figure out a way to justify not letting the Democrats ask questions. So, once we then posted parts of the 990, Maggie Hassan then came back, and Patty Murray, the ranking member, gave her part of her time. She then says to Betsy DeVos, “Wait a minute. I would like to clarify something, as we just heard. You know, you were—OK, you weren’t on the board. You were the vice president of it.” And she says, “No, I wasn’t,” and then says, “It was a clerical error.” Now, there’s probably a cleric somewhere in Michigan that’s like—
AMY GOODMAN: This is when Maggie Hassan pushed her on it and said, “I’ve got the form right here.”
JEREMY SCAHILL: Right. She says, “These are—we have the 990s all the”—because, see, what happened is, Betsy DeVos was listed as a vice president. This wasn’t just one tax filing. This is a decade worth of tax filings where Betsy DeVos and Erik Prince are listed as vice presidents of their mother’s foundation, specifically during the time when they were pouring money into what the Southern Poverty Law Center says was an anti-LGBTQ hate group. And Betsy DeVos, she lied to those senators. Now, that’s not the most scandalous thing at all about Betsy DeVos being named as education secretary, but it should be an immediate disqualifier.
AMY GOODMAN: Let’s turn to Senator Bernie Sanders’ questioning of Betsy DeVos.
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: My question is—and I don’t mean to be rude, but do you think, if you were not a multibillionaire, if your family has not made hundreds of millions of dollars of contributions to the Republican Party, that you would be sitting here today?
BETSY DEVOS: Senator, as a matter of fact, I do think that there would be that possibility. I’ve worked very hard on behalf of parents and children for the last almost 30 years to be a voice for parents and to—a voice for students and to empower parents to make decisions on behalf of their children, primarily low-income children.
AMY GOODMAN: There you have Betsy DeVos responding to Bernie Sanders.
JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, I mean, you know, Betsy DeVos was also asked in that hearing directly about the whole scam that was Trump University, and refused to really commit to the idea that they should not—that these kinds of private so-called career colleges, like the fraud that Donald Trump engaged in, should receive federal funds. And she really would not commit to that. But there could not be a less qualified individual to run the public education, you know, ministry of the United States government than Betsy DeVos, if the point is to support public education, because what the DeVoses want, what the Princes want, is to siphon off public financing to go to religious schools, because they don’t believe in a separation of church and state. They believe in a Christian supremacist theocracy that should govern the United States. And Trump was certainly not their first choice, but if you look at the kind of dominionist crowd that these guys run in, the very right-wing evangelicals, they now have come to peace with the idea that Trump is God’s chosen vehicle to deliver these policies. They’re very militant believers.
Betsy DeVos can try to separate herself from what her mother, Elsa Prince, does, such as giving $450,000 in one month alone to try to defeat a ballot initiative over gay marriage—or, to support a ballot initiative that would ban gay marriage in the state of California—she lives in Michigan—but she was the vice president, along with her brother, Erik Prince, the mercenary kingpin, of that foundation at the height of its funding of these hate groups. The idea that we’re going to have someone that has supported gay conversion therapy through a foundation that she was the vice president of—even though she said to Tammy Baldwin, the first openly gay woman in the Senate, “Oh, no, no, no, I view the intrinsic value of every life,” she looked like she wanted to vomit, having to speak to an openly gay senator, because they hate gay people. Let’s just be clear about it: The Prince family and the DeVos family, their public record suggests they hate anyone who is not straight, white and Christian.