The Associated Press has learned the State Department promised Blackwater bodyguards immunity from prosecution in its probe of last month's deadly shooting of 17 Iraqi civilians.
Officials say the bodyguards spoke only after receiving protections that statements were not for criminal prosecutions.
The immunity deal has delayed a criminal inquiry and could undermine prosecution.
State Department officials refuse to confirm or deny the immunity grant. But one official who refused to be quoted by name says if the immunity was granted, it was done without any authorization from any senior State Department official.
Blackwater chief Erik Prince is a Holland, Michigan native whose family fortune was made in the auto parts industry.