Investigating the Trump Administration’s Efforts to Sell Nuclear Technology to Saudi Arabia

Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, First Lady Melania Trump, and President Donald Trump in Saudi Arabia on May 21, 2017

Ignoring the objections of White House ethics officials and members of the National Security Council (NSC), top Trump administration appointees pushed for the sale of U.S. nuclear power technology to Saudi Arabia in potential violation of the Atomic Energy Act, according to a report released last month by the House Oversight and Reform Committee. American Oversight has filed three dozen Freedom of Information Act requests across the administration to find out more about these efforts and whether they were influenced by outside groups or individuals.

An early proponent of the plan was former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, who had said in ethics filings that he had been an adviser to a subsidiary of IP3, the firm that had initially floated the “Middle East Marshall Plan.” But even after Flynn left office, officials continued to push for the deal.

American Oversight obtained Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s 2017 calendars, which show that during his first full week of office, he met with Khalid al-Falih, the Saudi minister of energy, industry and mineral resources.

The Oversight Committee report says that on March 23, 2017, Perry “raised the subject of the Middle East Marshall Plan during an interagency meeting relating to Saudi Arabia convened by NSC.” The calendar entry we obtained for that day shows a meeting entitled “Ironbridge” — the name of the IP3 subsidiary that Flynn advised in the second half of 2016, while he served as Trump’s national security adviser during both the presidential campaign and the transition period.

Just last month, according to the Washington Post, Perry attended an Oval Office meeting with NSC and State Department officials as well as leaders from the nuclear energy industry.

In April 2017, according to Commerce Department calendars obtained by American Oversight, William A. Nitze, who said he was “an informal adviser to IP3,” contacted the office of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to set up a meeting about a “Middle East Power Infrastructure” and “Security Initiative” that IP3 developed. Nitze, who appears to have extensive experience in the international energy field and has worked in both the Reagan and Clinton administrations, said that initiative would accomplish a number of objectives, “including solving the Westinghouse problem, reviving the U.S. nuclear industry, stabilizing the Middle East, reducing proliferation risk, reestablishing the U.S. as the go-to provider of nuclear technology and expertise in the region as opposed to Russia and China, and creating high-quality jobs in the U.S.”

While it is not clear from the records we uncovered, the “Westinghouse problem” could be referring to the nuclear energy company’s bankruptcy filing from two weeks before. The Oversight Committee report mentions that Westinghouse Electric is part of IP3’s proposed consortium to build nuclear reactors in Saudi Arabia, and that in January 2018, Westinghouse was purchased by Brookfield Asset Management — the same entity that had bailed out Jared Kushner’s heavily indebted 666 Fifth Avenue skyscraper seven months later.

Other meeting attendees listed on the calendar entry were Retired General Jack Keane and Retired Rear Admiral Mike Hewitt, two of the four retired military co-founders of IP3, and IP3 President Stu Solomon. Nitze also mentioned that Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Secretary Perry had “been briefed on the Initiative and have given it their full support.”

Nitze’s email also mentions the plan’s support from Tom Barrack, a leading proponent of a “Marshall Plan for the Middle East” who has had a number of business ties to Saudi Arabia. Barrack is a longtime friend of the president and served as chair of the president’s inaugural committee, which is now being investigated for how it raised and spent its funds. In February, ProPublica and WNYC obtained a memo — reportedly written by Rick Gates, a Trump campaign aide later hired by Barrack — detailing how Barrack’s investment firm, Colony Northstar, planned to profit from its connections to the administration and to foreign dignitaries.

The Oversight Committee report notes that the memo proposed establishing a “combined international government and business team” — and that Colony NorthStar had already made contact with “several of the key agencies that will direct those efforts” on “a pipeline of potential projects.”

American Oversight obtained calendars that show Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin met at least three times with Barrack in the months after the inauguration, including an April 2017 meeting in a private restaurant room with ambassadors of multiple Middle Eastern countries, including Saudi Arabia, as well as Gates.

The 36 FOIA requests American Oversight filed last week seek communications between agency officials and multiple individuals involved with the nuclear export plan, among them Barrack and Gates. The requests cover the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative and the Departments of Commerce, Energy, Defense, State and the Treasury, and also seek any communications or talking points related to the plan to share nuclear technology with Saudi Arabia.

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