“Grave Concerns” over Trump Administration’s Plan to Transfer Nuclear Technology to Saudi Arabia

by Vins
Published: Last Updated on

Multiple whistleblowers have raised serious concerns surrounding White House efforts to transfer sensitive US nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia, according to a new report released by Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, on behalf of the House Oversight Committee in February 2019. The whistleblowers warned of potential procedural and legal violations by top officials within the Trump administration. According to these accounts, the violations are a consequence of  rushing through a plan to transfer nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia without congressional review, as required by law, which would be in violation of the Atomic Energy Act. Based on the whistleblowers’ accounts, email communications, and other leaked documents, the report highlights how White House lawyers and ethics officials repeatedly warned the administration that their actions could be in violation of federal law. The Trump administration has ignored these warnings and pushed forward with the plan.

The 19-page report includes leaked documents showing correspondence between senior White House figures (including Jared Kushner, Michael Flynn, and retired military officers) that reveals how they worked to bypass standard policymaking procedure to secure a nuclear export deal, referred to informally as the Middle East Marshall Plan. The report focuses heavily on alleged collusion between the Trump administration and members of the American nuclear industry who aimed to secure a $80 billion sale of nuclear weapons to Saudi Arabia. Experts are concerned that this deal could introduce and spread nuclear weapons technology to the highly volatile region. These concerns are underscored by questions about the legitimacy and stability of the Saudi regime under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman after the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi as well as the proxy war in Yemen. Salman has not ruled out weaponizing any nuclear facilities. In 2018, he stated: “Without a doubt, if Iran developed a nuclear bomb, we will follow suit as soon as possible.” He has also refused to accept any restrictions on enriching uranium and processing plutonium.

As a result of this report, the Democratic-led House Oversight Committee opened an ongoing investigation of the whistleblowers’ claims.  On March 19, a month into the investigation, Rep. Cummings accused the White House of engaging in “an unprecedented level or stonewalling, delay and obstruction.” In an opinion piece published by the Washington Post, Cummings expressed his frustration that the White House has not complied with the committee’s probes or made any employees available for interview, despite a dozen letters sent to administration officials. One White House official responded by asserting that the White House has “provided documents relating to the security clearance process” to Cummings’ staff for review.

This story has received limited coverage in the establishment news media. In February 2019, the New York Times reported that the House had opened an investigation into the “proposed U.S. nuclear venture in Saudi Arabia.” The Washington Post provided analysis of what one article described as the “alarming” and “worrisome” plan to sell nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia. Newsweek, MSNBC, and HuffPost also covered the launch of the Congressional investigation. Almost all of these stories were broken the day of or after the congressional report came out and there appears to have been little to no media attention on this topic since.



Raymond Arke, “The Lobbyists behind the Trump-Saudi Arabia Nuclear Deal under House Investigation,” Open Secrets (Center for Responsive Politics), February 26, 2019, https://www.opensecrets.org/news/2019/02/lobbyists-behind-the-trump-saudi-arabia-nuclear-deal/.

Griffin Connoly, “White House Hasn’t Provided ‘a Single Piece of Paper’ to Oversight, Despite 12 Requests,” Roll Call, March 20, 2019, https://www.rollcall.com/news/white-house-hasnt-provided-single-piece-paper-oversight-despite-12-requests.

Student Researcher: Elias Pereira (University of Vermont)

Faculty Advisor: Rob Williams (University of Vermont)