THE CROWN JEWELS AND THEIR PRINCES JARED KUSHNER AND MOHAMMED BIN SALMAN
Untitled, Acrylic on Panel, 30" x 29.75", Richard J Van Wagoner, Courtesy of Van Wagoner Family Trust**
Two important reports took a backseat to two higher profile stories this week, Michael Cohen’s testimony before the House Oversight Committee and Mr. Trump’s continuing audition for the Nobel Prize. [I’m doubting Un, the strong leader of a magnificent country that holds tremendous parades and with whom Mr. Trump has fallen in love, will be joining Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in his nomination of Mr. Trump, despite the latter’s history of asking.]
The reports to which I refer, read together, reveal a depth of corruption greater and more dangerous than the sum of their parts. At the outset I apologize for the length of this post. The devil in this instance is literally in the details.
1. The Times reported on February 28, 2019 that Mr. Trump overruled intelligence agencies, White House Counsel and his Chief of Staff in ordering Mr. Kushner be given top-secret security clearance.
2. The February 2019 Interim Staff Report, Committee on Oversight and Reform, US House of Representatives, revealed details of the Trump Administration’s sustained deployment of a secretive plan to sell nuclear secrets and technology to the Saudis, a move likely intended to assist the kingdom in developing the bomb.
These two reports add insight into the character and quality of the danger and corruption that broadly define the Trump Organization which now includes the Oval Office as the latest marketing arm of an alleged criminal enterprise. [See RICO discussion, below.] (For example, “Very proud of perhaps the greatest golf course anywhere in the world. Also, furthers U.K. relationship!” was the presidential tweet after the United Kingdom’s Supreme Court in London ordered the Trump Organization to pay Scotland’s attorney fees in Trump’s losing bid to prevent development of a solar wind farm off the coast of Trump’s Aberdeen links.)
The New York Times reported, “Trump Ordered Officials to Give Jared Kushner a Security Clearance.” The article explains:
“President Trump ordered his chief of staff to grant his son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, a top-secret security clearance last year, overruling concerns flagged by intelligence officials and the White House’s top lawyer . . . .
“Mr. Trump’s decision . . . so troubled senior administration officials that at least one, the White House chief of staff at the time, John F. Kelly, wrote a contemporaneous internal memo about how he had been ‘ordered’ to give Mr. Kushner the top-secret clearance.
“The White House counsel at the time, Donald F. McGahn II, also wrote an internal memo outlining the concerns that had been raised about Mr. Kushner — including by the C.I.A. — and how Mr. McGahn had recommended that he not be given a top-secret clearance. . . .
“Officials had raised questions about his own and his family’s real estate business’s ties to foreign governments and investors, and about initially unreported contacts he had with foreigners. . . .
“Mr. Kushner has spent this week abroad working on a Middle East peace plan. Among his meetings was one with Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia. . . .
Of course he did. Of course it was. And why should we care? Because Mr. Kushner, a guy who couldn’t achieve top-secret security clearance except in a banana republic, is in the thick of turning over the crown jewels to the Crown Prince. As Nicholas Kristof ably pointed out:
“Of all the harebrained and unscrupulous dealings of the Trump administration in the last two years, one of the most shocking is a Trump plan to sell nuclear reactors to Saudi Arabia that could be used to make nuclear weapons.
“Even as President Trump is trying to denuclearize North Korea and Iran, he may be helping to nuclearize Saudi Arabia. This is abominable policy tainted by a gargantuan conflict of interest involving Kushner.
“Kushner’s family real estate business had been teetering because of a disastrously overpriced acquisition he made of a particular Manhattan property called 666 Fifth Avenue, but last August a company called Brookfield Asset Management rescued the Kushners by taking a 99-year lease of the troubled property — and paying the whole sum of about $1.1 billion up front.
“Alarm bells should go off: Brookfield also owns Westinghouse Electric, the nuclear services business trying to sell reactors to Saudi Arabia. . . .
“It may be conflicts like these, along with even murkier ones, that led American intelligence officials to refuse a top-secret security clearance for Kushner.”
What puts meat on these bones is the 24-page Interim Staff Report from the House Oversight Committee, Whistleblowers Raise Grave Concerns with Trump Administration’s Efforts to transfer Sensitive Nuclear Technology to Saudi Arabia which provides a detailed explanation, with a timeline of key events, of the “Trump Administration’s interactions with Saudi Arabia [which] have been shrouded in secrecy, raising significant questions about the nature of the relationship.”
“In 2017, President Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, orchestrated a visit to Saudi Arabia as the President’s first overseas trip. Mr. Kushner also met on his own with then-Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who subsequently ousted his cousin . . ., launched a crackdown against dozens of Saudi royal family members, and reportedly bragged that Mr. Kushner was ‘in his pocket.’
“In October 2018, the brutal murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi was met with equivocation by President Trump and other top Administration officials. This month the White House ignored a 120-day deadline for a report on Mr. Khashoggi’s killing requested on a bipartisan basis by the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.
“Within the United States, strong commercial interests have been pressing aggressively for the transfer of highly sensitive nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia — a potential risk to U.S. national security absent adequate safeguards. These commercial entities stand to reap billions of dollars through contracts associated with constructing and operating nuclear facilities in Saudi Arabia — and apparently have been in close and repeated contact with President Trump and his Administration to the present day.
“However, experts worry that transferring sensitive U.S. nuclear technology could allow Saudi Arabia to produce nuclear weapons that contribute to the proliferation of nuclear arms throughout an already unstable Middle East. Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman conceded this point in 2018, proclaiming: ‘Without a doubt, if Iran develops a nuclear bomb, we will follow suit as soon as possible.’
“When Congress passed the Atomic Energy Act, it imposed stringent controls on the export of U.S. technology to a foreign country that could be used to create nuclear weapons. Under Section 123 of the Act, the U.S. may not transfer nuclear technology to a foreign country without the approval of Congress, in order to ensure that the agreement reached with the foreign government meets nine specific nonproliferation requirements.
“The whistleblowers . . . have warned of conflicts of interest among top White House advisers that could implicate federal criminal statutes. They have also warned about a working environment inside the White House marked by chaos, dysfunction, and backbiting. And they have warned about political appointees ignoring directives from top ethics advisers at the White House who repeatedly and unsuccessfully ordered senior Trump Administration officials to halt their efforts.
“. . . [The whistleblowers] stated that they felt compelled to convey their profound concern with the abnormal acts they witnessed inside the White House, including the disregard of advice from career officials, who repeatedly warned about the potential dangers of proceeding with such a sensitive proposal without full considerations and review.
“. . . [T]he whistleblowers provided new information about IP3 International, a private company that has assembled a consortium of U.S. companies to build nuclear plants in Saudi Arabia. According to media reports IP3’s only project to date is the Saudi nuclear plan.
“A key proponent of this nuclear effort was General Michael Flynn, who described himself in filings as an ‘adviser’ to the 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 adviser 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 Adviser.
“General Flynn failed to report in his security clearance renewal application a trip he took to Saudi Arabia in June 2015 on behalf of IP3 . . . . Although he reported a separate trip to Saudi Arabia in October 2015, General Flynn omitted key details, including the identity of the ‘work sponsor’ that financed the trip. General Flynn claimed that he spoke at a conference during the trip, but none of his three speakers’ bureaus had any involvement with the trip or knew of any conference there. Finally, General Flynn told investigators that he stayed at the King Khaled International Hotel, but a U.S. consulate official could not identify any such hotel in Saudi Arabia.
“Another key proponent of this effort was Thomas Barrack, President Trump’s personal friend of several decades and the Chairman of the Inaugural Committee. According to the New York Times: ‘During the Trump Campaign, Mr. Barrack was a top fundraiser and trusted gatekeeper who opened communications with the Emirates and Saudis, recommended that the candidate bring on Paul Manafort as campaign manager — and then tried to arrange a secret meeting between Mr. Manafort and the crown prince of Saudi Arabia.’
“According to this news report, 24% of the $7 billion in investments raised by Mr. Barrack’s company since Donald Trump won the nomination ‘has come from the Persian Gulf — all from either the U.A.E. or Saudi Arabia.’ During this period, Mr. Barrack reportedly ‘pondered the notion, for example, of buying a piece of Westinghouse, the bankrupt U.S. manufacturer of nuclear reactors.’
“Summary of Whistleblower Concerns
“According to whistleblowers, Derek Harvey, Senior Director of Middle East and Northern African Affairs at the National Security Council (NSC) from January to July 2017, stated during the first week of the Trump Administration that the decision to adopt IP3’s nuclear plan, which it called the Middle East Marshall Plan, and develop ‘dozens of nuclear power plants’ had already been made by General Flynn during the transition — while he was serving as an adviser to IP3.
“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.
“According to the whistleblowers, the NSC Ethics counsel and several attorneys in the NSC Legal Adviser’s office agreed that General Flynn had a potential conflict of interest that could violate the criminal conflict of interest statute, 18 U.S.C. § 208. As a result, NSC Legal Adviser John Eisenberg instructed NSC staff to cease all work on the plan.
“Despite the concerns of whistleblowers and NSC attorneys, and even after the President fired General Flynn in mid-February, officials inside the White House continued to move forward on the IP3 nuclear plan. More than five individuals separately confirmed that Mr. Harvey stated during a meeting on March 2, 2017: ‘I speak with Michael Flynn every night.’
“In mid-March 2017, Deputy National Security Adviser K.T. McFarland reportedly stated during a meeting that President Trump told Mr. Barrack that he could lead the implementation of the plan. She also disclosed that Mr. Barrack would be speaking with Mr. Harvey that day. Mr. Harvey subsequently held a conference call with Mr. Barrack, along with Rick Gates, President Trump’s former Deputy Campaign Manager and Deputy Chairman and of the Inaugural Committee, whom Mr. Barrack had hired to manage the Washington D.C. office of Mr. Barrack’s company. A career NSC staffer who joined the call with Mr. Gates, Mr. Barrack, and Mr. Harvey later informed colleagues that Mr. Harvey was trying to promote the IP3 plan ‘so that Jared Kushner can present it to the President for approval.’
“According to the whistleblowers, on March 24, 2017, multiple employees raised to the NSC Legal Advisor their concerns, including a detailed description of reported unethical and potentially illegal actions by General Flynn and Mr. Harvey. In response to these concerns National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster reportedly informed NSC staff that they should cease working on the IP3 proposal. However, NSC staff remained concerned because the same individuals continued their work on IP3’s proposal.
“Limitations and Next Steps
“These whistleblowers provided a snapshot of events at the beginning of the Trump Administration, but it is limited. While Serving as Ranking Member of the Committee, Rep. Cummings tried to investigate these actions for years, without Republican support.
“The Committee also received documents bolstering the whistleblowers’ accounts, showing repeated communications between IP3 and Trump Administration officials, and underscoring the central role played by Mr. Barrack and his associates in promoting the IP3 nuclear plan to the White House.
“Based on this snapshot of events, the Committee is now launching an investigation to determine whether the actions being pursued by the Trump Administration are in the national security interests of the United States, or rather, serve those who stand to gain financially as a result of this potential change in U.S. Foreign policy.
“The Committee’s investigation is particularly critical because the Administration’s efforts to transfer sensitive U.S. nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia appear to be ongoing. On February 12, 2019, the President met with nuclear power developers at the White House about sharing nuclear technology with countries in the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia. In Addition, next week Mr. Kushner will be embarking on a tour of Middle Eastern capitols — including Riyadh — to discuss the economic portion of the Administration’s Middle East peace plan.”
The last thing an already unstable Middle East needs, as suggested by Mr. Kristof above, is another country with the bomb, a country that reared and nurtured most of the terrorists responsible for 9/11. See also https://www.axios.com/edge-nuclear-abyss-5e46b44a-6a31-41b9-be32-c3bad0117b53.html
Parenthetically, RICO and the Trump Organization are now being mentioned in the same breath, even though the likelihood of a RICO prosecution has seemed obvious, at least to me, for some time. Unfortunately for Mr. Trump and his family, Mr. Whitaker did not take care of business in the Southern District of New York. I’ve blogged some about it. I hope the links below give some insight into how RICO might work and why the Trump Organization may be a worthy fit.
*My brother the very talented fiction writer and novelist, Robert Hodgson Van Wagoner, deserves considerable credit for offering both substantive and technical suggestions to https://medium.com/@richardvanwagoner and https://lastamendment.com
**My daughter Angela Moore, a professional photographer, photographed more than 500 pieces of my father’s work. On behalf of the Van Wagoner Family Trust, she is in the process of compiling a collection of his art work. The photographs of my father’s art reproduced in https://medium.com/@richardvanwagoner and https://lastamendment.comare hers