NEW YORK — In the very public, post-election parade of dignitaries, confidantes, and job-seekers filing in and out of Donald Trump’s marquee Manhattan tower, Blackwater founder Erik Prince was largely out of sight. And yet Prince was very much a presence, giving advice to Trump’s inner circle, including his top national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, according to people familiar with his activities.
Trump was weakest in the area where the stakes were highest — foreign affairs. Among those his aides turned to was Prince, a man whose specialty is paramilitary security forces, and whose company is best remembered after its employees were convicted of killing Iraqi citizens, including children, in the notorious 2007 Nisour Square gun battle. Prince wasn’t implicated in the shootings. In the decade since, Prince has carved out a role as a controversial critic of US policies to fight terrorism, a view often espoused by the incoming Trump administration, which was eager to ramp up its anti-terrorism policies.
According to people familiar with his activities, Prince entered Trump Tower through the back, like others who wanted to avoid the media spotlight, and huddled with members of the president-elect’s team to discuss intelligence and security issues. The conversations provide a glimpse of Prince’s relationship with an administration that’s distanced itself from him since The Washington Post reported earlier this month that Prince had met with a top aide to Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Seychelles in January.
That island encounter was the latest in a series of conversations between Trump advisers and Russians that have come to light as US investigators probe allegations that Russia interfered with the presidential election.
‘‘Erik had no role in the transition,’’ White House press secretary Sean Spicer said when asked about Prince last week.
A Prince spokesman in London said in a statement: ‘‘Erik had no role on the transition team. This is a complete fabrication. The meeting had nothing to do with President Trump.’’
Yet over a two- to three-month period around the election, Prince met several times with top aides as the incoming government took shape, offering ideas on how to fight terror and restructure the country’s major intelligence agencies, according to information provided by five people familiar with the meetings. Among those he conferred with was Flynn, a member of the transition team who joined the administration and was later dismissed, some of the people said. He discussed possible government appointees with people in the private sector, one person said. Prince himself told several people that while he was not offering his advice in any official capacity, his role was significant.
The meetings occurred in Trump Tower, the administration’s transition office in Washington, and elsewhere, according to people familiar with them. In one informal discussion in November, Prince spoke openly with two members of Trump’s transition team on a train bound from New York to Washington. He boarded the same Acela as Kellyanne Conway and they sat together. Joining the conversation at one point was Kevin Harrington, a longtime associate of Trump adviser Peter Thiel who is now on the National Security Council. They discussed, in broad terms, major changes the incoming administration envisioned for the intelligence community, as recounted by a person on the train.
Prince was a generous financial backer of the Trump campaign, along with his sister, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.
An earlier version of this story wrongly attributed a quotation to a Prince spokesman. It came from a statement.