Attorney General Jeff Sessions has instructed Justice Department prosecutors to ask FBI agents about a past criminal investigation into a business transaction that put 20 per cent of America’s uranium mining capacity in the hands of the Russian government.
Renewed interest in what has become known as the Uranium One deal threatens to embroil Bill and Hillary Clinton, whose personal fortunes and family foundation were enriched by people tied to the transaction.
An assistant attorney general told Congress in November that the DOJ would consider whether appointing a new special counsel was warranted in the case.
President Trump has sought to use the episode to deflect attention from his own Russia-related woes, calling his former election opponent’s mini-scandal ‘Watergate, modern age.’
Attorney General Jeff Sessions (right) is telling career prosecutors to dig into the infamous Uranium One deal
Hillary Clinton was secretary of state when her agency signed off on an acquisition that delivered 20 per cent of American uranium mining capacity to a Russian government-controlled firm called Rosatom
Bill Clinton got a $500,000 speaking fee from a Russian bank engaged in promoting Uranium One’s stock, and the Clinton Foundation reaped at least $33.6 million in donations from executives to cashed in on the transaction
He challenged reporters in October to ‘cover the uranium scandal’ and said: ‘That’s your real Russia story, not a story where they talk about collusion, and there was none. It was a hoax.’
‘The big story,’ he said in the Oval Office, ‘is uranium and how Russia got 20 percent of our uranium. And, frankly, it’s a disgrace.’
Any appointment of a new special counsel, particularly in response to calls from members of Congress or from Trump himself, is likely to lead to criticism complaints about an undue political influence on a department that is meant to function outside of any partisan sway or demand.
But the White House has insisted that Trump is keeping his hands off.
‘The president hasn’t directed any investigation or the appointment of a special counsel,’ press secretary Sarah Sanders said in November.
President Donald Trump has tried to persuade Congress and the media to make more of the Uranium One deal, believing that it has the potential to redirect Americans’ suspicions about the degree to which the Kremlin is interfering in America’s political life
‘In fact, he said publicly that he hasn’t been involved with that, and that’s entirely up to the Department of Justice.’
Yet Trump has used his Twitter account to prime the pump, challenging Sessions to be more aggressive in investigating the Clinton Foundation.
‘Everybody is asking why the Justice Department (and FBI) isn’t looking into all of the dishonesty going on with Crooked Hillary & the Dems.’ Trump tweeted in November.
As early as two months into his presidency, he was going after Republican lawmakers and encouraging them to pay attention.
‘Why isn’t the House Intelligence Committee looking into the Bill & Hillary deal that allowed big Uranium to go to Russia?’ he asked in March.
Canadian financier Frank Giustra (left) sold his company UrAsia to Uranium One, which was then chaired by Ian Telfer (right) before Rosatom bought it; Telfer used his family foundation to make four donations totaling $2.35 million to the Clinton Foundation between 2009 and 2013, and Giustra donated $31.3 million in 2006
Eventually, some House Republicans specifically said they want to know more about whether President Barack Obama’s Justice Department had been investigating the purchase of American uranium mines by a Russian-backed company in 2010.
The agreement was reached while Clinton led the State Department and some investors in the company had relationships with former President Bill Clinton and donated large sums to the Clinton Foundation.
Five other congressional inquiries have found no evidence of wrongdoing.
Devin Nunes, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, and Trey Gowdy, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, opened investigations on Oct. 24 into the agreement struck during the previous administration of President Barack Obama, a Democrat.
The committees ‘have questions … about the review and approval’ of the sale of Uranium One – which owned 20 percent of U.S. uranium supplies – by the U.S. Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, or CFIUS, according to the letters.
The committees also want to know if the FBI ‘had evidence that Russian nuclear industry officials were engaged in bribery, kickbacks, extortion and money laundering,’ the letters said.
While Clinton was Secretary of State at the time of the sale, her department has only one of nine votes on CFIUS, which is chaired by the Treasury Department and approved the sale unanimously.
In addition, the State Department CFIUS seat was occupied not by her, but by Jose Fernandez, then-assistant secretary for economic, energy and business affairs, who has said Clinton played no role in the decision.
The sale also was approved by Obama and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
A Hillary Clinton spokesman dodged a question from NBC News on Thursday about whether she was ever briefed on the Uranium One deal.
‘At every turn this storyline has been debunked on the merits,’ said the spokesman, Nick Merrill. ‘This latest iteration is simply more of the right doing Trump’s bidding for him to distract from his own Russia problems, which are real and a grave threat to our national security.’
THE URANIUM ONE DEAL
The Russian state-led company Rosatom acquired a majority stake in Uranium One in 2010 and bought the remainder of the company in 2013. Because Uranium One had holdings in American uranium mines, which at the time accounted for about 20 percent of America’s licensed uranium mining capacity, Rosatom’s 2010 purchase had to be approved by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States.
That committee, known as CFIUS, is made up of officials from nine federal agencies, including the State Department, which Clinton ran at the time. Other agencies represented on the committee include the departments of Treasury, Defense, Commerce, Energy and Homeland Security and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative.
President Donald Trump and his supporters have accused Clinton of overseeing the sale of 20 percent of America’s uranium supply to Russia, and have highlighted it as a way to deflect unsubstantiated charges that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia in the 2016 presidential election. Allegations have also been made that the approval of the sale of Uranium One benefited major donors to the Clinton Foundation, raising conflict-of-interest questions.
The matter took on new life after the FBI began investigating possible Russian attempts to influence the U.S. nuclear sector at the time CFIUS was considering the sale of Uranium One to Rosatom. The report said members of the committee, including Clinton, should have known about the investigation and it questioned why they would have approved it.
The deal did not sell 20 per cent of America’s uranium to Russia, but Uranium One did control 20 per cent of the country’s licensed uranium mining capacity. Without a specific license to export uranium from Uranium One’s mines, which it did not have at the time, Rosatom would not be able to send it to Russia or elsewhere.
Clinton has said she had nothing to do with the CFIUS approval. As secretary of state she technically had a seat on the panel. But most other cabinet-level members have delegated such responsibilities to less senior officials.
The alleged relationship between the approval of the sale and the Clinton Foundation was first raised in 2015 by author Peter Schweizer in the book ‘Clinton Cash.’ He and others have pointed to some of the investors in the deal and their ties to former President Bill Clinton and his foundation.
In April 2015, The New York Times published an article establishing that not long after the Russians said they wanted to acquire a majority stake in Uranium One, Bill Clinton received $500,000 for a speech in Moscow, which was paid for by a Russian investment bank with links to the Kremlin as it promoted Uranium One stock.
Canadian financier Frank Giustra, a top Clinton Foundation donor, sold his company, UrAsia, to Uranium One, which was chaired by Ian Telfer, also a Clinton Foundation donor.
Telfer used his family foundation to make four donations totaling $2.35 million to the Clinton Foundation between 2009 and 2013. Giustra donated $31.3 million in 2006.