Michael Flynn was among the White House officials who pushed a potentially unlawful project to share “highly sensitive” nuclear technology with Saudi Arabia despite the objections of ethics and national security officials, Trump administration whistleblowers claim in a new report.
Both Republicans and Democrats have expressed fears that Riyadh could develop nuclear weapons if the US know-how were transferred without legally-required safeguards.
The Democratic-led House Oversight Committee opened an investigation on Tuesday into the claims by several unnamed whistleblowers who said they witnessed “abnormal acts” in the White House regarding the multi-billion-dollar proposal to build dozens of nuclear reactors in the Middle East.
The report raises questions about whether some in the White House – which it described as marked by “chaos, dysfunction, and backbiting” – sought to circumvent established national security procedures regarding nuclear power technology. It also comes as Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner is developing a Middle East peace plan that could include economic proposals for Saudi Arabia.
Administration support for the project appears to have continued to the present, with Mr Trump meeting consortium representatives in the Oval Office last week, the committee report said.
The Independent has contacted the White House for comment.
According to the report, the scheme was first pushed by disgraced former national security adviser Flynn, who was fired in early 2017 and who had been an advisor for a company linked to the proposals before taking his government post. Derek Harvey, a National Security Council official brought in by Flynn, continued work on the plan, which has remained under consideration by the Trump administration.
Elijah Cummings, the Democratic chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, announced its investigation on Tuesday.
Relying on the whistleblower accounts, email and other documents, the committee’s report details how NSC and ethics officials repeatedly warned that the actions of Flynn and one of his senior aides could run up against federal conflicts of interest law and statutes governing the transfer of nuclear technology to foreign powers.
It heaps fresh scrutiny on Flynn’s early days in the administration, as he awaits sentencing for lying to the FBI in the Russia investigation. Congressional investigators are also probing the role of Tom Barrack, a proponent of the nuclear proposal who ran Mr Trump’s presidential inaugural committee, which is separately under investigation by federal prosecutors in New York. Rick Gates, a former employee of Mr Barrack and a cooperator in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, was also involved in advocating for the nuclear proposal.
An attorney for Flynn declined to comment. Mr Harvey and representatives for Mr Barrack did not immediately return requests for comment.
According to the report, the whistleblowers came forward 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”.
IP3 is led by a group of retired US military officers and national security officials including former Reagan national security adviser Robert McFarlane, who admitted withholding information from Congress in the Iran-Contra scandal in 1988 and was later pardoned.
The company, and other proponents of nuclear power in the Middle East, argue that 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 American involvement – and the limits on nuclear fuel that come with it – are essential to stem an arms race in the region.
IP3 did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Up until the month before he joined the Trump administration, Flynn listed himself as a consultant to a previous iteration of Hewitt’s company advocating a similar nuclear power proposal, though the company told The Washington Post that Flynn was offered a role as an adviser but never formally came aboard.
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 defence 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 catalogues 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 it as his mission to persuade 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 for work to stop on the proposal because of concerns about its legality, Mr Harvey ignored them and continued pursuing the proposal, according to the report.
Mr Harvey was fired from the NSC in July 2017. He then joined the staff of GOP congressman Devin Nunes of California, a Trump ally and the former Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.