President TrumpJared KushnerJared Corey KushnerIngredients for successful prison reform are all here, if politics-as-usual doesn’t spoil the batter Trump urges McConnell to act on criminal justice bill Khashoggi’s editor calls for Congress to probe Trump, Kushner ties to Saudis MORE , directed administration officials to inflate numbers for a supposed $110 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia, ABC News Donald John TrumpFranklin Graham: Trump defends the Christian faith Trump slams ’60 Minutes’ over report on family separations GOP senators open door to tougher response on Saudi Arabia MORE ‘s adviser and son-in-law, reported on Monday.
Two U.S. officials and three former White House officials told the network that Kushner pressed the State and Defense departments to pump up the number to $110 billion by including aspirational arms sales.
Saudi Arabia so far has only signed “Letters of Offer and Acceptance” (LOAs) for $14.5 billion in sales of helicopters, tanks, ships, weapons and training, according to the Pentagon.
That figure was reportedly inflated, however, to attempt to solidify the new alliance between the Trump administration and Saudi Arabia and paint a clear victory for the president’s first foreign trip last year.
Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisFive challenges facing Trump’s military Trump asks Supreme Court to hear challenge on transgender military ban Nielsen, Kelly clashed with immigration hawks over Trump military order: report MORE also supported touting the overblown amount – first announced in May 2017 when the U.S. signed a Memorandum of Intent (MOI) with the Saudis to jointly pursue the foreign military sales over the next 10 years, according to ABC. Mattis himself endorsed the memorandum, a former National Security Council (NSC) official familiar with the matter told the network.
“We need to sell them as much as possible,” Kushner reportedly told colleagues at an NSC meeting weeks ahead of the trip.
Officials initially told Kushner that the Pentagon realistically had roughly $15 billion worth of deals in the pipeline, ABC reported. There was then a back-and-forth between Kushner and Defense and State department officials on how to get to a larger number, another U.S. official told the network.
The MOI reportedly does not include details about the quantity and types of defense weapons to be purchased, with some carrying a “to be determined” label for delivery dates and quantities.
The Defense and State departments have offered few details on the memo, and there is no public breakdown of pending foreign military sales (FMS).
The five-page list of possible arms sales also notes that the document “does not create any authority to perform any work, award any contract, ‘issue articles from stock’, transfer funds, or otherwise obligate or create a binding commitment in any way either for the United States or the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”
A State Department official told ABC the list was made up of armaments that Saudi officials had expressed interest in, as well as equipment that U.S. defense analysts had flagged as among Riyadh’s needs.
Since the memo has been signed, little movement has been made on further sales. The Saudis let pass a September deadline for one of the more expensive items on the list – the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense anti-ballistic missile system – worth a potential $15 billion. No solid agreement is yet in place.
An NSC spokesperson said the White House and the State and Defense departments worked “tirelessly” with Saudi counterparts to devise the figure listed in the memo, based on “rigorous analysis of Saudi requirements and of optimal U.S. solutions.”
The military sales have been thrown into the spotlight in recent months as Trump has doubled down on diplomatic and financial ties between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia following the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
The CIA earlier this month announced it has “high confidence” that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the death of Khashoggi, but Trump last week attempted to throw doubt on the analysis.
Trump said in a statement that “maybe” the crown prince ordered the murder or “maybe he didn’t.” He also lauded the kingdom as a “steadfast partner,” and said the arms deals with the country “will create hundreds of thousands of jobs, tremendous economic development, and much additional wealth for the United States.”