Report on Trump-Tied Lobbyist Spurs Calls Ethics Probe

WASHINGTON (CN) – After a report from House Democrats described a top Trump campaign donor’s efforts to get a job in the administration while also supporting a U.S. nuclear energy deal with Saudi Arabia that would have personally benefitted him, a government ethics watchdog called on the administration Tuesday to investigate.

“The president likes to claim he puts ‘America First’ but it’s clear the public interest took a backseat to geopolitical vulture capitalism,” Austin Evers, the executive director of American Oversight, said in a statement Tuesday. “It’s time for the administration to cough up documents to Congress. If it has evidence to rebut this apparent corruption, it owes it to the American people.”

President Donald Trump welcomes first responders Monday before signing H.R. 1327, an act ensuring that a victims’ compensation fund related to the Sept. 11 attacks never runs out of money, in the Rose Garden of the White House. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

The report from House Democrats, which came out Monday, faulted the Trump administration for not turning over documents that could shed light on the lobbying efforts of Tom Barrack, a top Trump donor and personal friend of the president, and a company called IP3 International, which was looking to build nuclear power plants in Saudi Arabia.

Barrack, who also served as Trump’s inaugural chairman, is described in the 50-page report as having tried to get top jobs in the incoming administration, including the special envoy to the Middle East and ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, at the same time as he was pressing the administration to go through with an agreement to transfer nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia. 

Though the Senate would later pass resolutions to block the arms deal, Trump vetoed the legislation.

The House released its report on Barrack as the Senate failed to get enough votes to override Trump’s veto. It says IP3 International was looking to build nuclear power plants in Saudi Arabia, and that such plans would be hindered if the administration sought to have Saudi Arabia agree to not enrich nuclear fuel or take steps that would risk nuclear proliferation.

At one point, Barrack shared a draft of an energy speech Trump was supposed to give in May 2016 with Saudi and Emirati officials. The report says he passed along their suggestions to then-Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort.

IP3 also tried to nail down a $120 million investment from Mohammed bin Salman, now the Saudi crown prince, in exchange for a 10% share in the company, according to the report.

Other officials with IP3 meanwhile talked up their plan to other top Trump administration officials, including Energy Secretary Rick Perry, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and CIA Director Mike Pompeo. Both IP3 and Barrack kept White House adviser and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner in the loop on their plans to buy Westinghouse, a top U.S. manufacturer of large nuclear reactors, according to the report.

The committee says the interactions between IP3 officials and the Trump administration “virtually obliterated the lines normally separating government policymaking from corporate and foreign interests.”

“The documents show the administration’s willingness to let private parties with close ties to the president wield outsized influence over U.S. policy towards Saudi Arabia,” the Democrats’ report states. “These new documents raise serious questions about whether the White House is willing to place the potential profits of the president’s friends above the national security of the American people and the universal objective of preventing the spread of nuclear weapons.”

Republicans on the committee released a 9-page report last week that ran counter to the Democrats’ findings, denying that the administration did not rush the nuclear-tech deal and emphasizing that Barrack never actually landed a job in the administration.

“The evidence before the committee to date does not support allegations that the Trump administration committed wrongdoing in considering the transfer of civilian nuclear energy technology to Saudi Arabia,” the Republican report states.

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