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Senators question Pentagon nominee about whether firm trained Saudi journalist's killers

By MISSY RYAN | The Washington Post | Published: August 6, 2020

WASHINGTON — Several senators raised concerns Thursday about a Pentagon nominee's links to a firm that intelligence officials have said may have trained a Saudi hit team that killed Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.

Louis Bremer, a former Navy SEAL who serves as a managing director at the investment firm Cerberus Capital Management, is the Trump administration's nominee to become assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low intensity conflict (SOLIC), a key role overseeing elite operations across the globe.

He is one of a number of nominees the administration hopes to put in place just months before the November election, filling long-vacant senior positions, despite resistance in some cases from Senate Democrats.

Appearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee alongside several other civilian nominees, Bremer faced questions from Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., and Sen. Angus King, I-Maine), about his role at Tier 1 Group, a Cerberus subsidiary on whose board he sits.

Cerberus co-founder Stephen Feinberg is close to President Donald Trump.

Kaine referred to a March 2019 column by Post columnist David Ignatius, who wrote that the CIA had warned other government agencies that Tier 1 may have trained some members of the Saudi team that traveled to Turkey in October 2018, where the squad killed and dismembered Khashoggi after he entered the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul to get documents necessary for his upcoming marriage.

The CIA later concluded that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had ordered the killing of Khashoggi, a Virginia resident who was a prominent critic of the kingdom's leadership. Saudi officials have characterized the assassins as rogue operatives.

Bremer said he was not aware of Ignatius's article and did not know whether Tier 1 had investigated whether the allegation in the article was correct. He said he would check his records and report back to the committee.

"So until today, you had not been aware that an allegation had been made that a company on which you sit as a director, with a small board of directors, had potentially been involved in training Saudis who were participants in the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi?" Kaine asked.

"Senator, I don't have any recollection of that," Bremer replied. "There is a possibility that we did have a discussion about it. It's a number of years ago."

Speaking later in the hearing, King said he found it "incredibly hard to believe that a five-person board of this company would not have had a fire drill when this allegation arose."

Bremer then said it was "likely" that a probe may have occurred. "I'm not trying to hide any investigation that we may have done or not done," he said.

Later in the day, Kaine issued a statement to Breaking Defense, saying "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."

Aides to both senators said the men would make decisions about whether they would support Bremer's nomination once the nominee had responded to questions about the matter.

If Bremer were confirmed to the SOLIC job, one of his chief responsibilities would be helping shepherd Special Operations forces toward policy changes after years of scandals including assaults and drug use.