That the Trump administration is deeply, profoundly corrupt is not in question. But there are layers to that corruption that we have barely begun to explore. We are now learning of an absolutely shocking story that shows how so many people in Donald Trump’s orbit see his presidency as an opportunity for personal enrichment, and how that corruption may be warping U.S. policy.
There are jaw-dropping revelations on just about every page of a 24-page report just issued by the House Oversight Committee, based on information provided to them by multiple whistleblowers within the Trump administration. But I’ll do my best to break down the story and its implications. It stars a cast of familiar and not-so-familiar characters — including former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn, Trump buddy and billionaire investor Tom Barrack, and even Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law.
We begin with a company called IP3 International, described as “a private company that has assembled a consortium of U.S. companies to build nuclear plants in Saudi Arabia.” IP3, which has an all-star team of former generals and federal officials on its staff and board, was pushing hard on the Trump administration to approve its plan to build these reactors despite the lengthy process required to transfer nuclear technology abroad. And according to the Oversight Committee’s report, they had help:
A key proponent of this nuclear effort was General Michael Flynn, who described himself in filings as an “advisor” to a subsidiary of IP3, IronBridge Group Inc., from June 2016 to December 2016 — at the same time he was serving as Donald Trump’s national security advisor during the presidential campaign and the presidential transition. According to the whistleblowers, General Flynn continued to advocate for the adoption of the IP3 plan not only during the transition, but even after he joined the White House as President Trump’s National Security Advisor.
So Flynn is working with this company while he’s also working for the Trump campaign and transition. He then gets into the White House and has the chance to push the company’s plan to build dozens of nuclear plants in Saudi Arabia.
The other key person inside the administration was Derek Harvey, the senior director for Middle East and North African //affairs at the National Security Council in the early days of the Trump administration. Harvey was later fired by Flynn’s successor, H.R. McMaster, and then went to work for Trump lickspittle Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. But in the White House, he was an unusually strong advocate for IP3′s idea, despite the legal impediments meant to make sure that materials and technology capable of being turned into nuclear weapons don’t spread throughout the world:
Career staff warned that any transfer of nuclear technology must comply with the Atomic Energy Act, that the United States and Saudi Arabia would need to reach a 123 Agreement, and that these legal requirements could not be circumvented. Mr. Harvey reportedly ignored these warnings and insisted that the decision to transfer nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia had already been made.
Both career and political staff inside the White House reportedly agreed that Mr. Harvey’s directive could violate the law. One senior political official stated that the proposal was “not a business plan,” but rather “a scheme for these generals to make some money.” That official stated: “Okay, you know we cannot do this.”
Yet, just days after the President’s inauguration, IP3 officials sent documents directly to General Flynn for President Trump to approve, including a draft Cabinet Memo 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.
Why was Barrack, Trump’s billionaire friend, involved? He, too, was a big booster of IP3, and had himself explored buying a piece of Westinghouse, which makes nuclear reactors.
Meanwhile, inside the White House, there was apparently a small war going on, with NSC staffers on one side and Harvey — assisted by the IP3 personnel with whom he was in contact, as well as the since-fired Flynn (“I speak with Michael Flynn every night,” Harvey told a room full of people in March 2017) — on the other. The NSC staff kept reporting Harvey’s actions to the council’s legal adviser, who kept telling them they were not to work on the IP3 plan, since it circumvented the process for such projects and presented huge conflicts of interest for some of the officials involved.
But not everyone got the message. Here’s an account from a March 15, 2017, meeting involving deputy national security adviser K.T. McFarland:
Ms. McFarland stated that Mr. Barrack had done an “amazing job” managing President Trump’s inaugural committee and raising donations for Mr. Trump. She noted that Mr. Barrack had longstanding and extensive business ties across the Middle East [. . .] Ms. McFarland stated that President Trump told Mr. Barrack that he could lead implementation of the Middle East Marshall Plan.
Also: Rick Gates, the former deputy to Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, an admitted criminal, and a cooperator with special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation, was by now working for Barrack and helping to set this whole thing up.
But wait, there’s more!
In January 2018, Brookfield Business Partners, a subsidiary of Brookfield Asset Management, announced its plans to acquire Westinghouse Electric for $4.6 billion. Westinghouse Electric is the bankrupt nuclear services company that is part of IP3’s proposed consortium to build nuclear reactors in Saudi Arabia, and which stands to benefit from the Middle East Marshall Plan. In August 2018, Brookfield Asset Management purchased a partnership stake in 666 Fifth Avenue, a building owned by Jared Kushner’s family company.
In case you aren’t aware, 666 Fifth Avenue in New York isn’t just any building. It is the building that nearly destroyed the Kushner family’s business, a building for which they massively overpaid (to the tune of $1.8 billion) at the height of the real estate bubble, and one they have been trying for years to unload to get rid of the crushing debt it took on to buy it. Brookfield agreed to purchase a 99-year lease on the building, paid up front; for all intents and purposes, it was a bailout of the Kushner Companies.
Now, we can’t say for sure why Brookfield bailed out the Kushners. Maybe it was just a smart business decision. Maybe it had nothing to do with the potential for Westinghouse Electric to build reactors in Saudi Arabia, or Kushner’s influence with the president and his friendship with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. But this issue is being discussed in the White House to this day:
On February 12, 2019, it was reported that President Trump participated in a White House meeting with private nuclear power developers, “initiated by IP3 International.” The meeting was reported to include discussions about U.S. efforts “to secure agreements to share U.S. nuclear technology with Middle East nations, including Jordan and Saudi Arabia.” Participants reportedly included Rear Admiral Hewitt and General Keane from IP3, as well as representatives from Westinghouse, General Electric, Exelon, Nuscale, TerraPower, Lightbridge, AECOM, BWXT, Centrus Energy Corp., and X-energy. President Trump was reportedly “supportive” of the executives’ plans to sell nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia.
Even before Trump got elected, people with dollar signs in their eyes have swarmed around him, knowing that rules and laws were no longer going to be such an impediment to cashing in. In this case, even as senior White House officials were warning that the whole thing violated the law, they pressed on. After all, there was the potential for millions or even billions of dollars to be made.
This is how things work in the Trump administration. One thing has changed, though: Now there’s a Democratic majority in Congress with oversight responsibility and subpoena power. Maybe it can get to the bottom of this.
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