Oct 24, 2017

Background on the U.S.-Russia Uranium deal

Bill Frakes, Pablo Martinez Monsivais, Matt Rourke / AP

Two House committees are going to probe a controversial Russian uranium deal approved by the Obama administration. The deal gave Russia control of one-fifth of all uranium production capacity in the U.S.

Why it matters: Last week, Trump brought the deal back into light when he singled out Hillary Clinton and the Obama administration for their involvement, calling it "the biggest story that Fake Media doesn't want to follow." He was referring to a 2015 New York Times report that revealed the Clinton Foundation had received donations from leaders involved in the uranium deal, as well as a recent report by the Hill that claimed the Obama administration had signed off on it even though the FBI had evidence that Russia had used bribery and extortion to expand Moscow's atomic energy footprint in the United States.

What to watch: There was no evidence that Clinton personally got involved in the deal, as the Washington Post pointed out last year, despite President Trump repeatedly claiming that she did. Meanwhile, Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Chuck Grassley said last week that he's asking the agencies involved in approving the deal whether they knew about the criminal probe. Now, the House Intelligence Committee and the Oversight Committee are opening their own investigation into what probes took place when the deal was struck. These are the critical questions in the latest story.

The Uranium One deal

The Russian atomic energy agency, Rosatom, took control of the Canadian company Uranium One, which had uranium-mining stakes that stretched from Central Asia to the American West. The deal made Rosatom one of the world's largest uranium producers, per NYT, and brought Vladimir Putin closer to his goal of becoming one of the world's major atomic energy players.

Where things get complicated

The Clintons' involvement

  • A 2015 story by the New York Times' Jo Becker and Mike McIntire revealed that leaders of the Canadian mining industry that built, financed, and eventually made the sale of what would become Uranium One to Russia have been major donors to the Clinton Foundation.
  • And since uranium is considered a "strategic asset with implications for national security," the deal needed approval from several U.S. government agencies. Becker and McIntire note that the State Department, then run by Hillary Clinton, was among the agencies that signed off on the sale.
  • Canadian records show that as Moscow gradually took over Uranium One from 2009-2013, Uranium One's chairman, among others with ties to the company, used his family foundation to make a series of donations to the Clinton Foundation, totaling $2.35 million. Those contributions were not publicly disclosed by the Clintons, despite Hillary Clinton being under a White House agreement to publicly identify all donors.
  • In June 2010, Bill Clinton was paid $500,000 to speak in Moscow, the same month the Rosatom deal went through. The money came from a Russian investment bank with ties to the Kremlin.
  • The Clintons' defense: Brian Fallon, then a spokesman for Hillary's Clinton's initial presidential campaign, said there was no evidence supporting the theory that she, as secretary of state, helped support the interests of donors to the Clinton Foundation. He also noted that multiple U.S. agencies, as well as the Canadian government, had signed off on the uranium deal.

The Obama administration's involvement

  • A report last week by The Hill's John Solomon and Alison Spann says the FBI had evidence as early as 2009 that Russia had used bribery, kickbacks, and extortion to get a stake in the U.S. atomic energy industry — but the Obama administration allowed the deal to move forward anyway. The Justice Department kept investigating for four more years.
  • Why it matters: "The Russians were compromising American contractors in the nuclear industry with kickbacks and extortion threats, all of which raised legitimate national security concerns. And none of that evidence got aired before the Obama administration made those decisions," a person who worked on the case told The Hill.
Sen. Chuck Grassley's current probe
  • Grassley opened an investigation this month into potential "conflicts of interest" for Hillary Clinton and the Obama administration regarding the deal.
  • Last Wednesday, Grassley released a series of letters that he had sent to 10 federal agencies asking whether the Committee on Foreign Investment (CFIUS), which approved the transaction, was aware of the FBI probe. Note that the committee included then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
  • In the letters, Grassley wrote that he's "not convinced" by previous "assurances" that there were no unresolved national security concerns.
  • Grassley's bottom line: "The fact that Rosatom subsidiaries in the United States were under criminal investigation as a result of a U.S. intelligence operation apparently around the time CFIUS approved the Uranium One/Rosatom transaction raises questions about whether that information factored into CFIUS' decision to approve the transaction," he wrote.
Joint House Intelligence and Oversight Committees probe
  • House Intel Committee Chairman Devin Nunes said Oct. 24 his committee and the House Oversight Committee want to learn: Whether or not there even was an FBI investigation, if there was a DOJ investigation, and why Congress was not informed on the matter.
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