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By Kurt Bardella, NBC News THINK contributor
As the White House increasingly uses executive privilege to shield themselves from cooperating with congressional investigations, whistleblowers will be key to unlocking the secrets of what is really happening inside the Trump Administration.
That became more evident this week, when “credible information” provided by multiple whistleblowers concerning the White House’s efforts to “rush the transfer of highly sensitive U.S. nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia” led the House Committee on Oversight and Reform to announce a new investigation.
According to an interim staff report, the whistleblowers expressed “significant concerns about the potential procedural and legal violations connecting with rushing through a plan to transfer nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia.” and “conflicts of interest among top White House advisors.” They additionally “warned about political appointees ignoring directives from top ethics advisors at the White House who repeatedly and unsuccessfully ordered senior Trump Administration officials to halt their efforts.”
Make no mistake about it, these whistleblowers are risking their livelihoods and careers because they believe our national security is being put in jeopardy. The bulk of our foreign policy decisions and alliances are driven by where nuclear technology is deployed and, in a region as politically unstable as the Middle East, there would be significant geopolitical consequences from a decision that allows Saudi Arabia to make advancements in nuclear technology with the blessing of the U.S. government. This is a decision that warrants as much transparency as possible given what is at stake globally.
Congressional investigators have thus been given specific dates, documents, information and names of White House officials engaged in what the whistleblowers believe problematic activities related to the potential transfer of nuclear technology to Iran. Those documents call into question the interactions and activities of the Trump Administration’s most senior members — including Jared Kushner, energy secretary Rick Perry, former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn (who pled guilty in 2017 to lying to the FBI), former Deputy National Security Advisor K.T. McFarland, the inaugural committee chairman Thomas Barrack, and President Trump’s former Deputy Campaign Manager and deputy chairman of the inaugural committee Rick Gates (who has also pled guilty in the Mueller investigation).
It seems highly irregular to have political figureheads like Barrack play such a hands-on role in high-stakes foreign policy decisions.
The report reveals that, while serving as the national security advisor during Donald Trump’s campaign, General Michael Flynn advocated for the adoption of a plan — initiated by a private company called IP3 — for them to build a nuclear plant in Saudi Arabia. Flynn, though, had simultaneously served as an advisor to an IP3 subsidiary and traveled to Saudi Arabia on behalf of IP3 (a trip he omitted from his security clearance application).
Flynn’s support for the plan would continue throughout the presidential transition and after he joined the White House as the President’s National Security Advisor. Despite warnings about potential criminal conflicts of interest from National Security Council ethics and legal advisors, the White House continued to move forward with Flynn’s plan, even after he’d been forced out over concerns about his contacts with Russian officials and the veracity of his accounts of those contacts with Vice President Pence.
In a new letter from Chairman Cummings to Acting WH Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, questions are raised regarding a February 12, 2019 White House meeting in which the President reportedly expressed his support for transferring nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia — a meeting that “was initiated by IP3 International.”
And next week, Kushner — who, again, is named one of the people problematically involved in the potential transfer of nuclear technology — is scheduled to embark on a tour of the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia. Kushner, you may recall, offered Saudi’s crown prince advice about how to weather the public relations storm after Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi was murdered at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul at the alleged order of the crown prince.
Even more troubling are the potential financial conflicts of interest that Kushner has that pose troubling questions surrounding his motives for being so willing to help the crown prince.
As the committee’s interim report points out, in January of 2018, Brookfield Business Partners announced plans to acquire Westinghouse Electric, a bankrupt nuclear services company. This company is a key component of IP3’s efforts to build nuclear reactors in Saudi Arabia. Then, in August of 2018, BBP’s parent company, Brookfield Asset Management, purchased a partnership stake in 666 Fifth Avenue, a building owned by Jared Kushner’s family company. Kushner reportedly divested his interest in this property when he joined his father-in-law’s administration, but his interactions with foreign officials in the Middle East — particularly as his family looked for a financial backer — are, at the very least, highly irregular.
As Congressman Ted Lieu tweeted this week, “WHY DOES JARED KUSHNER STILL HAVE A SECURITY CLEARANCE?”
That is, one suspects, a question that House Democrats are quite likely to try and answer — and they seem to be getting help. For all the media focus on the new Democratic majority’s subpoena powers, the role of whistleblowers within the federal government could become the most important intelligence gathering asset for congressional investigators.