In 2017 Team Trump worked to clinch a nuclear deal with Saudi Arabia—and an independent investigative agency wants to know what happened behind closed doors.
One of the government’s top investigative agencies has looked at allegations of potential wrongdoing by individuals in the Trump administration about their planning of a nuclear deal with Saudi Arabia, according to two individuals with knowledge of the probe.
The line of inquiry is part of a broader investigation in the Office of the Special Counsel—an independent federal investigative and prosecutorial agency—into alleged politically motivated personnel decisions at government offices.
The OSC, which can seek corrective and disciplinary action, is looking at whether officials were retaliated against for raising concerns about the administration’s work related to a Saudi nuclear deal. As part of that investigation, OSC has also reviewed allegations about potentially improper dealings by senior members of the Trump administration in their attempt to map out a nuclear deal with Riyadh, according to two sources with knowledge of OSC’s work.
The details of the OSC probe, previously unreported, are the first indication that a government body other than Congress is investigating matters related to a potential nuclear deal between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia. OSC declined to comment on the record for this story.
Meanwhile, there is a growing concern among lawmakers on Capitol Hill about U.S.-Saudi relations, especially following the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. Those concerns were heightened by a report issued by Rep. Elijah Cummings in February that outlined allegations about efforts inside the White House to rush the transfer of highly sensitive U.S. nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia—a potential violation of the Atomic Energy Act and without review by Congress.
The Cummings report said IP3—a firm that includes former top military officers, diplomats, and energy experts—had developed a proposal for Saudi Arabia that was simply “a scheme for these generals to make some money.” That report said former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn had ties to the firm during his time working in the Trump administration.
Sources with direct knowledge of the IP3 plans today say the firm is focused on providing security for nuclear-related projects and in finding ways to compete with Russia and China to secure those projects throughout the Middle East.
In the wake of the Cummings announcement, The Daily Beast reported that U.S. companies and officials in the administration were moving forward in their conversations with Riyadh about a nuclear deal and the transfer of nuclear technology.
The Department of Energy then approved seven U.S. companies to conduct nuclear-related work in Saudi Arabia. (Federal law stipulates that companies obtain clearance from the U.S. government for exporting nuclear technology to or engaging in the production or development of special nuclear material in the kingdom.)
That news has prompted intense questioning by lawmakers in hearings with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Energy Rick Perry.
“One thing that is in our interest is to prevent Saudi Arabia from getting a nuclear weapon,” Rep. Brad Sherman, a California Democrat, said. “What I’ve seen in this administration recently… is an effort to evade Congress and to some extent evade your department and provide substantial nuclear technology and aid to Saudi Arabia while [the country] refuses to abide by any of the controls we would like to see regarding reprocessing, enrichment.”
A cohort of lawmakers is ready to reveal next week a new piece of legislation that would stop the Trump administration from bypassing Congress on the transfer of nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia.
Congress is also increasingly concerned about Jared Kushner’s relationship with Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman and his recent trip to Riyadh, especially because of the news that his security clearance was denied last year in part because of concerns about foreign influence. Engel is demanding a briefing from Pompeo on Kushner’s trip to Saudi Arabia last month that included a senior State Department official but otherwise left American diplomats in the dark.