SOLIC Nominee Faces Questions on Khashoggi Killing, Social Media Posts
WASHINGTON: The Trump nominee to head the Pentagon’s Special Operations office told the Senate Armed Services Committee he didn’t know if a company whose board he sits on trained the Saudi killers of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, putting his confirmation at risk.
Tim Kaine, a top Democratic senator, said he would be uncomfortable moving forward with the nomination until those questions are answered.
Louis Bremer, a self-described “Harley riding, tequila-drinking Navy SEAL” who retired some 20 years ago before heading into the world of finance, is a director of Cerberus Capital Management, an equity firm with a hand in the defense contracting world.
The company owns Tier 1 Group, a training outfit which has trained Saudi forces in military tactics. A litany of published reports have tied the Saudis who murdered Khashoggi in a Saudi consulate in Turkey to the company, something several senators pressed Bremer on.
Bremer told Kaine he “was not aware,” of any tie to the Khashoggi murder. “I do know what we have trained Saudi nationals,” he said.
Pressed further, Bremer said, “I don’t have any recollection of that,” and he didn’t recall it ever coming up to the board. “There is the possibility that we did have a discussion about it a number of years ago — I could check my records and come back to you,” he said.
In a statement to Breaking Defense, Kaine expressed dissatisfaction with Bremer’s answers: “Senators deserve answers to my questions about Tier 1’s role in training any Saudis implicated in the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. I don’t feel comfortable moving forward on this nomination until I get answers.”
Any delay will ensure that the post of Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations/Low-Intensity Conflict (SOILIC), which has not had a Senate confirmed chief since early 2019, would probably remain staffed at an acting capacity.
Cerberus has long been involved in military contracting. It owns Dyncorp, a company that provides security and logistics across the globe for the Pentagon. CEO Steve Feinberg and Bremer have reportedly pitched to the White House plans to provide a contractor stand-in force for American active duty troops in Afghanistan.
Cerberus is also working with Australian shipbuilder Austal to buy the ship repair facility at Subic Bay in the Philippines. That would keep the port out of the hands of Chinese corporations and enhance the ability of American and Australian warships to operate in the South China Sea.
Sen. Angus King, an Independent, joined Kaine in expressing skepticism over Bremer’s memory lapse: “I find it incredibly hard to believe the five-person board of this company wouldn’t have had a fire drill on this issue.”
“I will give you my commitment to go back and check the record with this,” Bremer replied. “I think it’s probably likely that we did do some sort of investigation. I just don’t recall the specifics of that.”
Another issue that arose during the hearing were now-deleted social media posts Bremer made in which he referred to Hillary Clinton as “lying Killary Clinton,” and praised former Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher, accused of war crimes by the men in his unit, as “my brother and my teammate.” He also posted a picture of himself and conservative provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos, who has praised pedeophilia and has ties to the white nationalist movement, calling him “a brilliant mind and staunch defender of conservatism.”
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen waded into the social media posts, telling Bremer, who talked repeatedly of restoring ethics to the SOF world after years of scandals: “I assume you agree with me this is not the kind of model we want to hold up to our special operations forces.”
“Those were posts that I regret,” he replied. “They were flippant; they were in my capacity [in the] private sector. I’m now down to LinkedIn on social media and people who know me and have worked with me over the last 30 years, both in uniform and outside of uniform, in the private sector know I’m a serious person. I’m a businessman. I’m a national security professional.”
Today’s hearing comes a week after the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee abruptly canceled a nomination hearing for Anthony Tata as the next Pentagon policy chief.
Tata faced across-the-board Democratic opposition and increasingly shaky support among Republicans due to a series of inflammatory Tweets about former President Obama, Islam, and accusing former CIA Director John Brennan, without evidence, of working to order Trump’s assassination.
Sen. Jack Reed, the committee’s ranking Democrat, said “members on both sides of the aisle have raised serious questions about this nominee,” whose career skidded to a halt after an Army investigation concluded he had at least two extramarital affairs and falsified a legal document.
In the wake of the cancellation, the Trump administration made an end-run around Congress, appointing Tata to a temporary senior position in the same Pentagon office. If he stays in that position for 90 days, he can slide into the original job as an acting official, without Senate approval. The White House officially withdrew his nomination on Monday, signaling that this was indeed the plan.
If Bremer is confirmed, he would replace Owen West, who left the office in early 2019. Thomas Alexander has been performing the duties of the ASD since West’s departure.