WASHINGTON — Then-White House national security adviser Michael Flynn and other senior officials pushed the transfer of highly sensitive U.S. nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia, despite objections from ethical and national security officials, according to a congressional report based in whistleblower accounts.
The House Oversight Committee on Tuesday announced it’s probing the matter and released its interim report. The report centers around a firm called IP3 International — led by a group of retired generals and allegedly linked to Flynn — and its proposal for the U.S. nuclear power industry to build 40 nuclear reactors across the Middle East.
Prepared for House Oversight and Reform Committee chairman Elijah Cummings, D-Md., the report questioned whether the proposal, dubbed a “Marshall Plan for the Middle East” could allow Saudi Arabia to produce nuclear weapons without safeguards and spread nuclear weapons throughout an already unstable Middle East.
The panel is probing whether financial gain by a few stakeholders was being placed ahead of U.S. national security interests.
“The whistleblowers who came forward have warned of conflicts of interest among top White House advisers that could implicate federal criminal statutes,” Cummings said in a letter to acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney on Tuesday. “They also warned about a working environment inside the White House marked by chaos, dysfunction and backbiting.”
For its part, IP3, in a statement Tuesday, denied Flynn advised the firm, as the report alleged, and defended its plan as a means to compete with Russia and China in business and geopolitics. IP3 also argued that U.S. involvement — and the limits on nuclear fuel that come with it — are essential to stem an arms race in the region.
“The only way to address concerns over development of weapons of mass destruction is for the U.S. to participate in the introduction and secure operation of international nuclear power plants,” the company said, adding “IP3 looks forward to sharing what we know" with the committee.
IP3 is led by a group of retired U.S. military officers and national security officials, including retired Army Gen. Jack Keane, who’s name has repeatedly come up for defense secretary since 2016, as well as retired Rear Adm. Michael Hewitt, retired Marine Corps Gen. James Cartwright, retired Adm. Eric Olson and former Reagan administration national security adviser Bud McFarlane.
The probe comes as President Donald Trump met with nuclear power developers at the White House about sharing nuclear technology with countries in the Mideast, including Saudi Arabia. The president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, plans to visit Riyadh and other cities in the region next week to discuss the economic portion of the administration’s Mideast peace plan.
The relationship between the White House and the kingdom is under added scrutiny amid the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi and the administration’s refusal to submit a report on the killing that was requested by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Citing whistleblower accounts, email communications and other documents, the Oversight committee alleges Flynn, who was fired in early 2017, had served as a conduit for IP3 inside the White House. Derek Harvey, a National Security Council official brought in by Flynn, continued work on the proposal, which has remained under consideration by the Trump administration.
Flynn is awaiting 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 Trump’s presidential inaugural committee, which is under separate investigation by federal prosecutors in New York. Rick Gates, a former Barrack employee and cooperator in the Russia investigation, was also involved in advocating for the nuclear proposal.
Just days after Trump’s inauguration, the company sent Flynn a draft memo for the president’s signature that would have appointed 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 Defense to lend him support.
The report also quotes former Deputy National Security Adviser K.T. McFarland as saying Trump personally told Barrack he could lead the plan’s implementation.
The report also catalogs the actions of 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, Harvey saw his mission as getting Trump to adopt the nuclear proposal despite the objections of ethics and national security officials.
Even when H.R. McMaster, who replaced Flynn as national security adviser, and NSC lawyer John Eisenberg directed that work stop on the proposal because of concerns about its legality, Harvey continued pursuing the proposal, according to the report.
Harvey was fired from the NSC in July 2017. He then joined the staff of GOP Rep. Devin Nunes of California, a Trump ally and the former Republican chairman of the House intelligence committee.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Joe Gould is senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry.