Senior Trump administration officials pushed a project to share nuclear power technology with Saudi Arabia over the objections of ethics officials, according to a congressional report, in a move that could have benefitted a company which has since provided financial relief to the family of Jared Kushner.
Citing whistleblowers within the US government, the report by the Democrat-led House oversight and reform committee alleges “abnormal acts” in the White House regarding the proposal to build dozens of nuclear reactors across the kingdom.
The committee on Tuesday opened an investigation into the allegations, which include concerns over whether White House officials in the early months of the Trump administration sought to work around national security procedures to push a Saudi deal that could have financially benefited close supporters of the US president.
According to the report, the nuclear effort was pushed by former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who was fired in early 2017 and is awaiting sentencing for lying to the FBI in the Russia investigation.
Derek Harvey, a National Security Council official brought in by Flynn, continued work on the proposal, which has remained under consideration by the Trump administration.
Relying on the whistleblower accounts, email communications and other documents, the committee’s report details how National Security Council and ethics officials repeatedly warned the actions of Flynn and a senior aide could run afoul of federal conflicts of interest law and statutes governing the transfer of nuclear technology to foreign powers.
The report also notes one of the power plant manufacturers that could benefit from such a deal includes Westinghouse Electric, a subsidiary of Brookfield Asset Management, a company which struck a deal in August to rescue the Kushner family’s 666 Fifth Avenue tower in Manhattan from massive debts.
Detailing the White House’s continued efforts to promote the deal, the report highlights how in May, energy secretary Rick Perry told a congressional committee he “tried to really drive home” to Saudi Arabia how “you have to use Westinghouse” for “the best reactors in the world”.
It also notes Mr Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and adviser, allegedly remains “directly involved” with those efforts, and that he would be travelling to Saudi Arabia in late February to “share elements of the economic plan” of a US peace proposal in the Middle East.
The White House and Mr Kushner did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The report comes at a time when lawmakers are increasingly uneasy with the close relationship between the Trump administration and Saudi Arabia, which has raised alarms even among members of the president’s party in Congress.
Lawmakers from both parties have expressed concerns that Saudi Arabia could develop nuclear weapons if the US technology were transferred without proper safeguards.
Mr Trump has made the kingdom a centrepiece of his foreign policy in the Middle East as he tries to further isolate Iran. In the process, he has brushed off criticism over the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi and the Saudis’ role in the war in Yemen.
Congressional investigators are also probing the role of Tom Barrack, a proponent of the nuclear proposal who ran Trump’s presidential inaugural committee, which is under separate investigation by federal prosecutors in New York. Rick Gates, a former Barrack employee and cooperator in Mr Mueller’s investigation, was also involved in advocating for the nuclear proposal.
A spokesman for Mr Barrack said in a statement he will cooperate with the House probe.
“Mr Barrack’s engagement in investment and business development throughout the Middle East for the purpose of better aligned Middle East and US objectives are well known, as are his more than four decades of respected relationships throughout the region,” the statement said, noting that Mr Barrack never joined the Trump administration.
Mr Harvey did not immediately return a request for comment.
According to the report, the whistleblowers came to the committee because they had concerns “about efforts inside the White House to rush the transfer of highly sensitive US nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia in potential violation of the Atomic Energy Act and without review by Congress as required by law — efforts that may be ongoing to this day”.
A 2017 article by the nonprofit news outlet ProPublica detailed some of the concerns raised inside the National Security Council about the nuclear proposal — known as the “Marshall Plan for the Middle East” — advocated by a company called IP3 International.
IP3 is led by a group of retired US military officers and national security officials, including retired rear admiral Michael Hewitt, retired Army general Jack Keane and former Reagan national security adviser Bud McFarlane.
IP3 and other proponents of nuclear power in the Middle East argue the US needs to be involved because otherwise it will lose out to Russia, China and others on billions of dollars in business. They also say that US involvement - and the limits on nuclear fuel that come with it - are essential to stem an arms race in the region.
“The only way to address concerns over development of weapons of mass destruction is for the US to participate in the introduction and secure operation of international nuclear power plants,” the company said in a statement on Tuesday. It also said it “looks forward to sharing what we know” with the House committee.
Up until the month before he joined the Trump administration, Flynn listed himself on public documents as an adviser to an iteration of Mr Hewitt’s company advocating for the nuclear power proposal.
Last year, IP3 told the Washington Post that Flynn was offered a role in the company but never formally came aboard. On Tuesday, the company said Flynn “was never an advisor to IP3 or its affiliate, he had no stake in the company and was never compensated or reimbursed for expenses by IP3”.
Still, according to the report, Flynn served as a conduit for IP3 inside the White House.
Just days after Mr Trump’s inauguration, the company sent Flynn a draft memo for the president’s signature that would have appointed Mr Barrack as a “special representative” in charge of carrying out the nuclear power proposal and called on the director of the CIA and the secretaries of state, energy, treasury and defense to lend him support.
The report also quotes former deputy national security adviser KT McFarland as saying Mr Trump personally told Mr Barrack he could lead the plan’s implementation.
The report also catalogs the actions of Mr Harvey, the Flynn confidant who was put in charge of the NSC’s Middle East and North African affairs.
According to the report, upon entering the White House in January 2017, Mr Harvey saw his mission as getting Mr Trump to adopt the nuclear proposal despite the objections of ethics and national security officials.
Even when HR McMaster, who replaced Flynn as national security adviser, and NSC lawyer John Eisenberg directed that work stop on the proposal because of concerns about its legality, Mr Harvey continued pursuing the proposal, according to the report.
Mr Harvey was fired from the NSC in July 2017. He then joined the staff of Republican congressman Devin Nunes of California, a Trump ally and the former Republican chairman of the House intelligence committee.
Additional reporting by AP