Senate lawmakersÂ on Thursday grilled President Donald Trumpâ€™s nominee to head the Pentagonâ€™s special operations over his companyâ€™s reported connection to those implicated by US intelligence in the killing of Saudi Arabian dissident and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.
Louis Bremer, a former Navy SEAL, was rebuked by members of the Senate Armed Services Committee after he said he did not know whether his firm, Tier 1, had ever trained members of the Saudi hit squad.
â€œI do know what we have trained Saudi nationals as part of our engagements with the kingdom as an allied nation,â€ Bremer told lawmakers.
The Arkansas-based Tier 1 Group provides special operations-oriented tactical training to law enforcement and government agencies, as well as foreign government personnel.
The group’s website advertisesÂ training in long-range marksmanship, urban combat, tactical driving and reconnaissance and surveillance,Â among a number of other specialized skills.
Tier 1’s website reads that the group “is proud to provide world-class multidiscipline, multi-echelon training to the US Military and State Department, Law Enforcement, the Private Security Detail Sector, [Other Government Agency] Specialty Operator Teams as well as International Allied Forces.”
Washington Post columnist David Ignatius wrote in March 2019 that the CIA had warned other US government agencies that some of Khashoggiâ€™s killers may have received special operations training from Tier 1 prior to the murder and under permission from the State Department.
Pressed on the point by Senator Tim Kaine, D-Va., Bremer told the committee Thursday that he was unaware of Ignatiusâ€™ report and that he did not recall if his firm had ever looked into the matter.
â€œItâ€™s hard for me to believe that a mention of your company by name in a column by David Ignatius â€¦ would not come to your attention or the attention of the board,â€ Sen.Â Angus King, I-Maine, responded.
Bremer then backtracked. â€œI just donâ€™t recall the specifics about it. Iâ€™m not trying to hide any investigation that we may have done or not done,â€ he said, adding, â€œItâ€™s very likely that we did do some form of investigation, [we] likely even had a discussion at the board level.â€
â€œI can go back and look at the details on that, and provide that to both you and Senator Kaine,â€ Bremer said, citing his involvement in â€œa lot of different corporate matters, a lot of different boardsâ€ as why he did not recall any such discussions.
â€œI donâ€™t feel comfortable moving forward on this nomination until I get answers,â€Â Kaine later told Breaking Defense, which first reported the exchangeÂ Thursday.
The hearing was the committeeâ€™s second dustup over a Pentagon nominee in just over a week.
Less than a half hour before it was scheduled to begin, the Senate canceled a hearing last weekÂ on the nomination of Anthony Tata, a former US Army brigadier general and Trumpâ€™s choice for the Defense Departmentâ€™s undersecretary of defense for policy.
Senate Armed Services Committee ChairmanÂ James Inhofe, R-Okla., claimed the committee had not received the necessary documentation to hold the hearing in time.
â€œThere are many Democrats and Republicans who didnâ€™t know enough about Anthony Tata to consider him for a very significant position at this time,â€ Inhofe said in the statement last week.
Tata, who backed Trumpâ€™s interference in the trial of alleged war criminal and former Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher, had faced sharp criticism from Democrats last month over a history of bizarre, violent and Islamophobic comments.
Trump then informally installed TataÂ in the position this week, bypassing Congress.
John Rood, who had served in the position until February, was ousted over perceived disloyalty to the president, according to reports.
Bremer currently heads Cerberus Capital Management, which owns Tier 1 and was founded by Stephen Feinberg, who reportedly once had the presidentâ€™s ear over a proposal to send private contractors to Afghanistan instead of US troops.
According toÂ Bloomberg Businessweek, CerberusÂ also purchased part of Jared Kushner’s debt in 2008 after Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, purchased a nearly $2 billion office building in Manhattan.