Trump officials accused of promoting nuclear power sales to Saudis

Whistleblowers raise ‘grave concerns’ as Saudis plan to develop ‘dozens’ of nuclear plants

 Vogtle nuclear power plans near Waynesboro, Georgia in the US. A Democrat-led committee says that in the rush to transfer technology to the Saudis Trump aides may have violated regulations. Photograph:  Pallava Bagla/Corbis via Getty Images

Vogtle nuclear power plans near Waynesboro, Georgia in the US. A Democrat-led committee says that in the rush to transfer technology to the Saudis Trump aides may have violated regulations. Photograph: Pallava Bagla/Corbis via Getty Images

 

White House officials have been pushing a plan to sell US nuclear power technology to Saudi Arabia in potential defiance of legal restrictions and regulatory procedures, according to an investigation by congressional Democrats.

A report published on Tuesday said whistleblowers had raised “grave concerns” about the White House attempt to help Saudi Arabia develop a nuclear power programme with “dozens” of new plants.

The report was prepared for the Democrat-led House of Representatives oversight committee. It alleged that the effort by Trump aides “to rush the transfer of highly sensitive US nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia” may have violated the Atomic Energy Act, which governs nuclear technology transfers, and suggested the effort might be ongoing.

The whistleblowers also warned of “conflicts of interest among top White House advisers” that could have broken the law, and described a working environment “marked by chaos, dysfunction and backbiting”, the report said.

The investigation is the latest to question President Donald Trump’s ties to Saudi Arabia in the wake of last year’s killing of Jamal Khashoggi. The journalist was murdered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul after writing critically about the Riyadh regime.

The president has claimed he has “no financial interests” in Saudi Arabia, but Mr Trump has longstanding business ties with the kingdom and prominent Saudis. They have served as patrons of his hotels, purchasers of his luxury condominiums and as partners with his investors.

Elijah Cummings, the Democrat who chairs the House oversight committee, wrote on Tuesday to Mick Mulvaney, Mr Trump’s acting chief of staff, seeking documents relating to nuclear talks between the US and Saudi Arabia. These included the readout of a meeting between Mr Trump and Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom’s crown prince, in March 2017.

Flynn role

The committee’s staff report highlights the role of Michael Flynn, an adviser to Mr Trump during the election campaign and briefly his national security adviser. While working on the campaign, Mr Flynn reported that he was an adviser to a subsidiary of IP3 International, “a private company that has assembled a consortium of US companies to build nuclear plants in Saudi Arabia”, the report said.

The report listed a number of people involved with the push who served in senior roles in the Trump administration but have since left the White House. They included KT McFarland, who was ousted as deputy White House national security adviser after General HR McMaster replaced Mr Flynn as national security adviser. Another person alleged to have played a central role was Derek Harvey, then the National Security Council director for the Middle East.

Whistleblowers were also said to have identified Tom Barrack, chief executive of Colony Capital and a close Trump ally, as another significant figure in the proposed sales.

The report included a draft cabinet memo reportedly prepared by employees of IP3 for Mr Trump to approve, stating that the president had “appointed Mr Barrack as a special representative to implement the plan and directing agencies to support Mr Barrack’s efforts”.

Colony Capital, a private equity fund, said in a statement that Mr Barrack had not been contacted before the interim report was published, and was reviewing it.

The fund added that his “engagement in investment and business development throughout the Middle East for the purpose of better-aligned Middle East and US objectives” was well known, and he had never held a position in the Trump administration. He “stands ready to co-operate with the committee”, the group said.

Saudi Arabia’s energy production remains dominated by crude oil, and kingdom officials have said using nuclear power was a “strategic option” for meeting its fast-growing demand for electricity and diversifying its mix of sources.

16 nuclear plants

Khalid al-Falih, the Saudi energy minister, told the International Atomic Energy Agency during its annual meeting in Vienna last September that the country planned to build as many as 16 nuclear plants over the next 25 years and to provide 15 per cent of its power from nuclear by 2032.

Saudi Arabia could be an important export market for the struggling US nuclear industry, which has been hit by huge cost overruns in the construction of new plants, and the bankruptcy of the engineering group Westinghouse in 2017.

However, both Republicans and Democrats have expressed concerns about allowing Saudi Arabia to buy US nuclear technology.

Republican senators including Marco Rubio, Cory Gardner and Rand Paul sent a letter to Mr Trump in October urging him to suspend talks on a potential civil nuclear co-operation agreement with the kingdom, on the grounds of “serious concerns about the transparency, accountability and judgment of current decision makers in Saudi Arabia”.

The oversight committee report came as many Republicans and Democrats have raised concerns about the stance Mr Trump has taken towards Saudi Arabia in the wake of the murder of Khashoggi. Members of Congress last week slammed the Trump administration for not meeting a deadline to inform Congress whether it believed Prince Mohammed, the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia, was responsible for the killing. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2019