In a tweet Thursday, President Donald Trump attacked Hillary Clinton over the 2010 approval of a deal that gave Russia control over one-fifth of U.S. uranium mining assets.

The Backstory

Over a period of several years, Russia’s state-owned uranium company, Rosatom, acquired a majority stake in Uranium One, a Canadian company with mining assets in the U.S. Because this potentially affected U.S. national security interests, the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CIFIUS), a federal government body that considers the national security implications of such deals, had to sign off on it. In 2010, CFIUS declined to recommend that President Obama block the transaction, effectively allowing it to go forward. As Secretary of State, Clinton held one of the nine seats on the CIFUS committee.

Why It’s Controversial

A New York Times investigation in 2015 revealed that Uranium One executives had donated heavily to the Clinton Foundation. Uranium One’s former chairman had long been among the Clinton’s Foundations largest donors. While his contributions to the Foundation predated the deal, other executives with Uranium One did make donations contemporaneous with the consideration by CFIUS and most of the donations were not disclosed by the Clinton Foundation. Further, the same month the deal went through, Bill Clinton was paid $500,000 by a Kremlin-linked investment bank to give a speech in Moscow.

Also troubling, a report this week by John Solomon and Alison Spann in The Hill revealed that before the deal was approved, the FBI uncovered evidence of a Russian bribery scheme related to Rosatom’s efforts to gain control of Uranium One. According to the report:

“Federal agents used a confidential U.S. witness working inside the Russian nuclear industry to gather extensive financial records, make secret recordings and intercept emails as early as 2009 that showed Moscow had compromised an American uranium trucking firm with bribes and kickbacks in violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, FBI and court documents show.”

Senator Chuck Grassley is now investigating whether this was considered before the deal was approved: “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 in a series of letters to 10 government agencies.

What to Make of It

None of this looks good. Given that Clinton was one of the more hawkish members of the cabinet, she was among those most likely to block it. As the Washington Post’s Callum Borcher wrote, “it is virtually impossible to view these donations as anything other than an attempt to curry favor with Clinton.”

Still, there’s no evidence that Hillary Clinton directly intervened to facilitate the deal. Most CFIUS decisions are handled at the deputies level. Although occasionally more controversial ones rise to the principals. However, Clinton’s representative on CIFIUS, Jose Fernandez, told Time that Clinton “never intervened with me on any CFIUS matter.”

Clinton was not solely responsible for the approval of the deal. Multiple federal agencies and the Canadian government also signed off. The concern about Uranium One was U.S. dependence on imported uranium for nuclear power. As part of the arrangement, uranium from the U.S. mines owned by Uranium One were not permitted to be exported. That was enough to allay concerns of committee members.

Bottom Line: While the media hasn’t covered the issue as vigorously as Trump believes it should, it has not been ignored altogether. It was the New York Times that first broke the story two years ago. Many other major news outlets have reported on it as well. Trump’s tweet is probably intended to divert scrutiny over contacts between his campaign and Russia during the 2016 election. But, it’s not entirely without merit. Clinton didn’t singlehandedly turn over U.S. uranium to the Russians, but she didn’t stand in the way either.




Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here