Breaking News

Trump Adviser Said to Have Pursued Saudi Nuclear Deal as He Sought Administration Role


WASHINGTON — Twelve days after President Trump was sworn in and five days after he roiled the Arab world with his first effort to restrict the entry of people from many predominantly Muslim countries to the United States, Thomas J. Barrack Jr., a close friend of the president’s and a top fund-raiser for his campaign, had an idea for the White House.

In an email to Stephen K. Bannon, Mr. Trump’s strategist, Mr. Barrack promoted what he called “an elegant thought” about how American companies, possibly including Mr. Barrack’s own private equity firm, could help Saudi Arabia build nuclear power plants. The plan, Mr. Barrack said, would be “backed immediately” by the Saudis and would “balance the current noise” caused by the furor over the travel restrictions.

A few weeks later, Mr. Barrack texted a friend and business associate who had close ties to the ruling family of the United Arab Emirates. Mr. Barrack told the friend, Rashid al-Malik, that he wanted Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, the de facto ruler of the United Arab Emirates widely known by his initials, M.B.Z., to intervene with Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, to push Mr. Barrack’s appointment as a special envoy to the Middle East.

The crown prince should tell Mr. Kushner that he “would be happy to work with me as special envoy on bolstering the economy of Egypt and the Gulf region,” Mr. Barrack said in one text.

Those communications and others were disclosed on Monday in a report by Democratic staff of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, which is investigating the links between Mr. Trump’s advisers and Persian Gulf officials, including a plan the help Saudi Arabia acquire nuclear power plants.

Mr. Barrack never got the special envoy post, and the push for a nuclear power plant deal with the Saudis stalled, in part because of Saudi reluctance to agree to American nonproliferation policies intended to ban the enrichment of nuclear materials for weapons, the report said. But questions about Mr. Barrack’s ties to the governments of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which are closely aligned, have attracted not only congressional scrutiny, but the attention of federal prosecutors who have been looking at foreign influence over several of Mr. Trump’s aides or supporters.

Mr. Barrack’s aides say he has cooperated with both the federal prosecutors and congressional investigators. He had no immediate comment on the committee’s report.

The 50-page report laid out in substantial new detail how — during the campaign, transition and early stages of the Trump administration — Mr. Barrack and other aides and supporters of Mr. Trump mixed business opportunities and political access. It focused largely on Mr. Barrack and Michael T. Flynn, the president’s former national security adviser, setting out a timeline intended to make a case that they had blatant conflicts of interest.

“With regard to Saudi Arabia, the Trump administration has virtually obliterated the lines normally separating government policymaking from corporate and foreign interests,” Representative Elijah E. Cummings, Democrat of Maryland and the chairman of the oversight panel, said Monday in a statement. Mr. Trump has been attacking Mr. Cummings over the past few days, calling his district in and around Baltimore a “disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess” where “no human being would want to live.”

The report says that at the same time Mr. Barrack was seeking to become the administration’s Middle East envoy or ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, he was exploring the possibility that his private equity firm, Colony Capital, would be part of a deal to purchase Westinghouse Electric Company, the sole American manufacturer of large-scale nuclear reactors — partly with capital from Saudi Arabia or its close ally, the United Arab Emirates.

The idea was that Westinghouse would then be well positioned to bid for Saudi government business building nuclear power plants. Because the United States carefully regulates the transfer of nuclear technology to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, any such deal would require the approval of Congress and the administration.

An early contender for that business was a private company called IP3 International, which had assembled a consortium of American companies eager to get in on what could have amounted to a multibillion dollar deal. Before he became Mr. Trump’s national security adviser — a post he held for less than a month — Mr. Flynn had listed himself as an adviser to IP3. Officials at IP3 said that the listing was in error and that Mr. Flynn was not associated with the company.

The Oversight Committee investigators tried to explore questions that federal prosecutors in the United States attorney’s office in Brooklyn have been scrutinizing for months: whether Mr. Barrack, who led financing efforts for Mr. Trump’s 2016 campaign and inauguration, tried to shape the Trump team’s message in favor of the governments of Saudi Arabi and the United Arab Emirates, where his firm has done hundreds of millions of dollars in business.

Mr. Barrack was in close touch during the campaign, transition and early administration with people well connected to the ruling family of the United Arab Emirates, including Mr. al-Malik and Yousef al-Otaiba, the powerful Emirati ambassador to the United States.

In May 2016, Mr. Barrack sent Mr. al-Malik a draft of an energy policy speech that Mr. Trump, then closing in on the Republican presidential nomination, was to deliver that month in North Dakota, asking for pro-gulf region language. According to the report, Mr. al-Malik, who has been interviewed by federal prosecutors, “circulated the draft among Emirati and Saudi officials.”

Mr. Barrack then incorporated language from Mr. al-Malik into a draft that he sent to Paul Manafort, the Trump campaign chairman, who had been hired on his recommendation.

“This is probably as close as I can get without crossing a lot of lines,” Mr. Barrack said in an email to Mr. Manafort. “Give me a call.”

A day later, according to the report, Mr. al-Malik sent Mr. Barrack a revised draft with comments from an Emirati official, writing, “This is what we agreed on with our neighbors.” Later, Mr. Manafort sent another draft of the speech back to Mr. Barrack, writing, “It has the language you want.”

Anyone who tries to influence American policy on behalf of a foreign official or entity is required to disclose their activities to the Justice Department under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. Mr. Barrack’s aides have said that he never acted at the direction of any foreign official or entity, but simply tried to serve as an intermediary between Mr. Trump and a complex, rivalrous region of the world.


Source link

No comments