Top Trump officials pushed plan to share technology despite objections, according to House oversight committee report
Erin Durkin – The Guardian
Top White House officials pushed a plan to share nuclear technology with Saudi Arabia, despite objections from career national security staff, according to a new congressional report.
The report from the House oversight committee said that whistleblowers within the Trump administration have come forward to warn about the proposed nuclear power deal, which could violate the law.
The Democratic-controlled committee has launched an investigation into the whistleblowers’ claims, its chairman, Maryland representative Elijah Cummings, said Tuesday.
Donald Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn was a key backer of the plan for a consortium of US companies to build dozens of nuclear power plants in Saudi Arabia, according to the report’s account.
During the presidential campaign and transition, Flynn was listed as an adviser to a subsidiary of IP3 International, the company behind the power plant proposal.
Flynn was fired in 2017 and has since pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI in the Russia investigation. But planning for the Saudi nuclear project may be ongoing to this day, according to the report.
“The whistleblowers who came forward have expressed significant concerns about the potential procedural and legal violations connected with rushing through a plan to transfer nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia. They have warned of conflicts of interest among top White House advisers that could implicate federal criminal statutes,” the report said.
“They have also warned about a working environment inside the White House marked by chaos, dysfunction and backbiting.”
Career and political staff at the White House repeatedly warned that an order to proceed with the nuclear power plant plan could violate the law, since it did not comply with steps required by the Atomic Energy Act. Without proper safeguards, technology transferred for use in power plants could be used to create nuclear weapons.
Lawyers at the National Security Council also warned that Flynn had a conflict of interest that might break the law, and the council’s legal adviser, John Eisenberg, ordered NSC staff to stop all work on the plan, according to the report. But the White House continued to pursue it.
The report also cites the role of Trump’s son in law, Jared Kushner. A top NSC official told colleagues that he was promoting the IP3 plan “so that Jared Kushner can present it to the president for approval”, according to the whistleblowers’ account.
Kushner plans a tour of the Middle East next week, with a stop in the Saudi capital of Riyadh, to discuss economic aspects of the administration’s Middle East peace plan.
The report notes a complex financial connection between Kushner and the plan to build nuclear power plants in Saudi Arabia. Brookfield Asset Management, the company that eased a financial crunch for Kushner’s family by taking over a troubled Manhattan property, has acquired Westinghouse Electric, the bankrupt nuclear services company that is one of the firms participating in the Saudi nuclear deal.
Trump met with nuclear power developers at the White House just last week to discuss sharing nuclear technology with Middle Eastern countries, including Saudi Arabia.
“Further investigation is needed to determine whether the actions being pursued by the Trump administration are in the national security interest of the United States, or, rather, serve those who stand to gain financially as a result of this potential change in US foreign policy,” the committee said in its report.
Cummings, a Maryland Democrat, said he had attempted to begin an investigation of the Saudi nuclear talks before this year, but was blocked when Republicans controlled the committee.
The White House has so far not commented on the report.