The Trump administration is pursuing a plan to hand Saudi Arabia sensitive nuclear technology despite protests from members of the National Security Council, according to a bombshell congressional report published Tuesday.
The 24-page document released by the House Oversight Committee revealed that the White House wants to build a network of nuclear power plants in the the Gulf State, and that Donald Trump met with nuclear advisers about the idea as recently as February 12.
The Washington Post reported that last week’s Oval Office meeting included Energy Secretary Rick Perry, representatives from the NSC and State Department, and a dozen nuclear industry executives.
Whistleblowers who spoke to the committee warned that the transfer of the sensitive technology to the Saudis could destabilize the region by boosting nuclear weapons proliferation.
“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,” the report says.
The memo also highlights multiple conflicts of interest among those trying to get the project up-and-running, including former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, who is linked to the consulting firm IP3 International, which is trying to get the deal over the line.
Also entangled in the controversy is Trump’s son-in-law and White House adviser Jared Kushner, who travels to the Middle East — including a stop in Riyadh — next week to discuss the economic portion of the administration’s Middle East peace plan.
What is Trump trying to do?
Citing a tranche of internal White House emails, the report says that Flynn is driving a plan to build roughly 40 power plants across Saudi Arabia.
The Wall Street Journal first broke news of the project in November, but Tuesday’s report offers far more detail, including the fact that Trump is still actively pursuing it.
Flynn began crafting the plan before Trump became president and within seven days of Trump’s inauguration, Flynn and several retired generals from IP3 International met with Derek Harvey, a senior official on the National Security Council.
“Immediately after the meeting, Mr. Harvey directed the NSC staff to add information about IP3’s ‘plan for 40 nuclear power plants’ to the briefing package for President Trump’s call with [Saudi Arabia’s] King Salman,” the report says
There is no indication within the report about whether Trump will greenlight the project.
Is this against the law?
In order to sell nuclear technology to another country, the administration would need to sign what’s known as a “123 agreement” which is linked to the 1954 U.S. Atomic Energy Act.
The agreement includes nine stipulations the buyer has to meet, including agreeing not to use the technology to build nuclear weapons.
However, the report states that Harvey ignored the need to sign a “123 agreement” and “insisted that the decision to transfer nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia had already been made.”
Aside from the legalities, there are also ethical problems.
According to the whistleblowers, officials have already raised concerns about the involvement of Flynn, who was ousted from the administration for lying to about his contacts with Russian operatives.
Prior to being named as National Security Adviser, Flynn worked as an adviser to IP3 — a firm run by retired U.S. generals that calls itself a “global enterprise to develop sustainable energy and security infrastructure.”
It would stand to make a huge amount of money from a deal with Saudi Arabia.
What is Kushner’s role?
Kushner’s connection to the plan — and his close relationship with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salaman — has also raised suspicion.
Of particular concern to the committee is Kushner's connection to Westinghouse Electric, a power plant manufacturer that is involved in the administration's potential plans in Saudi Arabia.
Westinghouse is a subsidiary of Brookfield Asset Management, which invested in a Kushner family property when it was deeply in debt.
What can Congress do?
Trump would not require Senate approval for any deal he signs with Saudi Arabia, but Congress would have 90 days to kill any agreement by passing a joint resolution disapproving it.
“If we don’t draw a line in the Middle East, it’s going to be all-out proliferation,” Ben Cardin, the committee’s ranking Democrat, said. “We need to maintain the UAE’s [U.S. Atomic Energy] standards in our 123 agreements. There’s just too many other countries that could start proliferating issues that could be against our national interest.”
What is Trump saying?
The Trump administration has been silent on the potential agreement, but Pro Publica reports that officials have begun sounding out advisers on how Congress might react to a deal that gives the Saudis enrichment and reprocessing.
While Democrats have been vocal in their opposition to a nuclear deal with the Saudis, Republicans have been less outspoken, and GOP committee members said they were not included in drafting the report.
“This is a delicate and nuanced issue that Chairman Cummings is approaching without bipartisan input and with far-flung requests for information,” Charli Huddleston, a spokeswoman for Republicans on the committee, said.
Any deal is likely to face significant backlash, especially at a time when relations with Riyadh are strained following the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.
The White House has refused to blame the Crown Prince for directing the murder that took place on Oct. 2 inside the Saudi embassy in Istanbul, despite the findings of U.S. intelligence agencies.
Cover image: President Donald Trump (R) shakes hands with Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the Oval Office of the White House on March 20, 2018 in Washington, DC. (MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)