BY JOE CONASON
Often enough, the ambitious phrase “Middle East peace plan” emanates from the Trump White House, often associated with presidential son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner. Only last week, the Polish government joined with the U.S. State Department to host a major international conference on Middle East issues in Warsaw.
But now the House Oversight Committee has released a stunning 24-page report about the pursuit of certain potentially dangerous commercial opportunities in the Middle East, specifically Saudi Arabia, by Kushner and an assortment of other Trump cronies. Suddenly, the “peace plan” looks far more like a “piece” plan – as in cronies grabbing a piece of the Saudi financial action.
Based on information from alarmed informants within the government, the Oversight committee is investigating the Trump Administration’s secret, reckless and apparently illegal rush to promote the sale of nuclear power plants to the Saudi regime. On Thursday, the committee chair, Rep. Elijah Cummings III, D-MD, released an interim report titled “Multiple Whistleblowers Raise Grave Concerns With Trump Administration’s Efforts to Transfer Sensitive Nuclear Technology to Saudi Arabia.”
One such concern is the administration’s rejection of advice from lawyers, who warned that its plans to sell nuclear technology violated the Atomic Energy Act, designed to safeguard against the unchecked proliferation of atomic weapons and materials.
Another is the brazen and unethical self-dealing by figures close to Trump, who sought to profit from the Saudi deals – including disgraced former national security adviser Michael Flynn and Tom Barrack, the real estate executive and Trump pal who ran the inaugural committee [now also under investigation by federal prosecutors].
According to the interim report, Flynn signed on as “advisor” to a firm known as IP3, which the Washington Post’s Paul Waldman accurately described as an “all-star team” of retired generals and diplomats pushing to build nukes in Saudi. This IP3 outfit recruited Flynn while he was serving as a campaign adviser to Trump, and he continued that role, despite the obvious conflict of interest, after he entered the White House. Others on Trump’s national security staff joined with Flynn to promote the Saudi nuclear sales, sparking conflict with officials who objected both on policy and legal grounds.
As soon as Trump was inaugurated, the IP3 group started pushing him to appoint Barrack as a “special representative” of the U.S. government to “implement the plan.” At the same time, Barrack was considering an investment in Westinghouse Electric, one of the world’s largest builders of nuclear plants. Assisting him was Rick Gates – who had worked for Paul Manafort and ended up with a guilty plea and a cooperation agreement with the Office of Special Counsel.
Let’s pause here to think hard about the wisdom of constructing dozens of nuclear plants, with their potential for terrorist exploitation, in the same country that sent forth the 9/11 hijackers – never mind its recent misadventures in Yemen and its brutal murder of an American resident, Jamal Khashoggi. It is incomprehensible that any American president would consider turning over the most lethal technology to the Saudis, with their aggressive brand of radicalized Wahhabi Islam.
But leaving aside the peril to world peace, there are billions to be made here. And that may be what matters most to the inhabitants of the Trump White House.
In that connection, the interim report notes a fascinating timeline, which begins with a holding company called Brookfield Asset Management acquiring Westinghouse Electric for $4.6 billion in January 2018. [Of course, Westinghouse Electric would have benefited hugely from the IP3 plan to build those Saudi nukes.]
And just seven months later, Brookfield Asset Management purchased a 99-year lease on 666 Fifth Avenue – the famous Manhattan tower whose $1.8 billion in debt had nearly ruined Jared Kushner’s family company, which owned it.
Brookfield’s decision to bail out the Kushners by paying for that overpriced lease upfront puzzled observers when the company first announced its purchase. After so many other potential investors had passed on that bad deal, why did Brookfield bite?
Perhaps now we will find out.
– Joe Conason’s columns appear regularly in The Oklahoma Observer