With the cloud of the Mueller probe lifted, President Donald Trump can now go on the offensive with an attorney general who appears ready to drop the hammer on corruption in Washington. Moreover, Attorney General William Barr doesn’t appear to be intimidated by Democratic lawmakers who have already threatened him with impeachment and even incarceration.
Former President Barack Obama’s allies have lately claimed his term in office was “scandal-free,” a claim his critics find “laughable.” Abuses of power under the Obama administration ranged from drone-strike assassinations of U.S. citizens to the IRS’s targeting of conservatives. In fact, the Obama administration was a magnet for scandals. One of the largest—and perhaps least understood—involves the Russian takeover of Uranium One, a Canadian mining company with large uranium holdings in the United States.
The mainstream press has repeatedly declared the Russian purchase of Uranium One a “debunked conspiracy theory.” But it’s no theory, nor has it been debunked. The Uranium One deal was complicated and had many moving parts, which also explains why misinformation about it has spread widely. Claims such as “the Russians gave Clinton $145 million” and “Clinton sold American uranium to the Russians” are great soundbites, but are factually inaccurate.
It’s true that the Clinton Foundation received undisclosed millions from Uranium One stakeholders—such as the $2.35 million from board Chairman Ian Telfer. The Obama administration did allow the Russians to acquire domestic nuclear assets critical to U.S. national security. But minor inaccuracies in the soundbites have allowed self-appointed fact-checkers such as PolitiFact and Snopes to selectively “debunk” the larger story without critically examining the full set of facts.
In the coming months, readers may find the Uranium One scandal coming back into focus. For that purpose, it’s time to set the record straight.
Here are seven reasons why the Uranium One scandal isn’t going away:
1. Uranium One is the largest foreign-influence scandal in US history.
If you ask any American what the largest political scandal in our history was, you will likely find that former President Richard Nixon’s Watergate affair tops the list. Nixon’s spying on political opponents left such a bruise on America’s collective psyche that adding “-gate” to later political scandals is an homage. For Nixon, the coverup was worse than the crime.
Scandals that result in the impeachment of a sitting president are hard to top, which is why the Clinton–Lewinsky fiasco also ranks high among U.S. political scandals. Those shenanigans—and the more recent targeting by Obama of Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign—demonstrate clear abuses of power, but have little to do with foreign influence.
The Uranium One scandal, however, involves alleged bribery, kickbacks, extortion, and money laundering at the highest levels of the U.S. nuclear industry. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) informant-turned-whistleblower William Douglas Campbell infiltrated Russian President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle and claims to have video evidence of “suitcases full of bribery cash.”
It’s now known that former President Bill Clinton was paid $500,000 by a Kremlin-backed bank to deliver a speech in Moscow just months before the Uranium One sale was approved by the Obama administration. Clinton sought approval from his wife’s State Department to meet with a Russian board member of Rosatom, the state-owned nuclear agency. Clinton ended up meeting directly with Putin instead, who thanked the former president for the visit. Soon after, Bill Clinton was paid a half million dollars by Russian interests, and Hillary Clinton’s State Department allowed the Russian takeover of U.S. nuclear assets.
When Peter Schweizer first broke the Uranium One scandal in April 2015, Hillary Clinton’s apologists immediately claimed that her State Department was just one of several Obama administration agencies that approved the sale—but is that really any better? Because if none of the Obama agencies who approved that deal found any issues with it, perhaps other players were just as conflicted as Bill and Hillary Clinton.
The Uranium One scandal contains elements of corruption and abuses of power. Neither Watergate nor the Lewinsky affair involved payments to top White House officials by foreign adversaries in exchange for favorable policies. However, Uranium One did—and the payments were massive.
The $145 million figure refers to the collective “commitments and donations” made to the Clinton Foundation by “investors who profited from the deal,” as documented extensively in Schweizer’s book “Clinton Cash” and confirmed by The New York Times. Any uncertainty in the dates or amounts is due exclusively to the Clinton Foundation, which reports its donations once per year and in wide ranges—or as Schweizer calls it, “the Clinton blur.” The bulk of the $145 million figure came from longtime Clinton friend Frank Giustra. Another major Clinton donor included in that figure is uranium investor Frank Holmes, who was grilled on his timely donations by CNBC.
2. Uranium One was never just a Clinton scandal; it’s also an Obama scandal.
In addition to Obama’s State Department, his Department of Justice (DOJ) had a lead role on the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) that approved the sale. Thus, top DOJ and FBI officials share blame for not blocking the transaction in 2010. That could explain why Obama’s top DOJ and FBI personnel stonewalled their own field office investigations involving Hillary Clinton’s Uranium One conflicts. Those investigations effectively exonerated her just before the 2016 election.
The DOJ’s role in the 2010 CFIUS review is troubling. No one from the DOJ involved with that committee raised any objections to the deal, despite separate ongoing FBI investigations into Russian espionage and racketeering schemes—schemes that specifically targeted the U.S. nuclear industry. Despite hard evidence of these schemes, the FBI, the DOJ, and other Obama agencies nevertheless raised no objections to the Russian takeover of U.S. nuclear assets.
The fact that Clinton’s State Department wasn’t the only Obama agency in the CFIUS review with conflicting motives must be fully investigated. The Democrats are right, Clinton couldn’t have approved the deal singlehandedly. They seem to think that this exonerates Clinton, when, in fact, it really damns the broader Obama administration.
3. Uranium One likely played a major role in the origins of the Trump–Russia collusion hoax.
Last month, Barr pledged to investigate the origins of the Trump–Russia probe, also known as “Spygate.” As this latest saga unfolds, note that many of the same players in the Obama targeting of the Trump campaign also played lead investigative roles in each of the Russian nuclear schemes.
James Comey, Robert Mueller, Andrew McCabe, and Andrew Weissmann all appear to have been involved in both the investigation of long-running Russian nuclear conspiracies and in the attempt to unseat a duly elected president who threatened to expose them.
At the time of the sale, Obama’s FBI—headed by Mueller—had intimate knowledge of ongoing Russian espionage and bribery schemes, but the deal went through anyway. McCabe headed the FBI investigation, which began in 2009, into the bribery, kickbacks, and money laundering linked to Uranium One. Weissmann and Rosenstein headed the DOJ prosecution of the Russian principals and announced the charges, years later in 2014.
One felon received 48 months for crimes that could have carried up to a 20-year sentence. Those convictions didn’t occur until after Obama’s top officials approved the sale. The DOJ’s failure to publicly object to the Uranium One purchase, despite knowing about ongoing bribery and espionage schemes, raises a major red flag.
The overlap of the previous Russian influence investigations with the 2016 Trump–Russia investigation deserves a thorough review by Barr.
4. ‘What did Obama know, and when did he know it?’
In autumn 2015, an FBI agent sent notices to the Obama CFIUS agencies that required them to preserve their Uranium One records. Those records remain secret but may shed light on the largest questions of all: What did Obama know about the Russians’ nuclear schemes, when did he know it, and why did his administration allow them to proceed?
The Director of National Intelligence (DNI) is legally required to submit a threat analysis of any sale under review to CFIUS. Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) has demanded the threat analysis performed by Obama’s then-DNI James Clapper. Notably, Clapper has a history of lying under oath to Congress and is currently under fire for intelligence leaks that were damaging to the Trump campaign.
Once it’s made public, Clapper’s threat analysis of the Uranium One deal will be very telling—either the analysis was thorough, or it was not. That’s bad news for the Obama administration in either case.
The Hill’s John Solomon framed the issue another way in October 2018:
“Since the emergence of [Uranium One whistleblower Campbell’s] undercover work, there has been one unanswered question of national importance.
“Did the FBI notify then-President Obama, Hillary Clinton, and other leaders on the CFIUS board about Rosatom’s dark deeds before the Uranium One sale was approved, or did the bureau drop the ball and fail to alert policymakers?”
Neither outcome is particularly comforting.
5. Whistleblowers are ready to talk. An ‘avalanche’ is coming.
There are now at least three credible Uranium One whistleblowers who have provided information to authorities since the story first broke.
As previously mentioned, William D. Campbell was an FBI operative who had infiltrated Putin’s inner circle. Campbell worked directly with Rosatom chief Sergei Kiriyenko, who has since been promoted to Putin’s first deputy chief of staff. Campbell documented evidence of the Russians’ nuclear ambitions and their strategy to infiltrate the U.S. nuclear supply chain through the Uranium One purchase. According to Campbell, Moscow paid millions in an influence operation targeting Obama administration decision-makers.
Last November, 16 FBI agents raided the home of former FBI contractor Dennis Nathan Cain, a federally protected whistleblower who claims that he can provide documented evidence that the FBI and DOJ failed to investigate possible criminal activity related to the Clinton Foundation and the Russian takeover of Uranium One. Cain recently tweeted his appreciation for Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.): “Thank you @RepDougCollins for releasing this testimony. It proves the DoJ under BHO was running a two-tier system of justice that allowed politically connected get away [sic] with serious crimes. What other crimes were ignored?”
Former top Uranium One executive Scott Melbye attended the conservative CPAC conference this year. Melbye hammered the Uranium One scandal, calling Clinton’s role “bizarre,” according to The Daily Beast.
“People who say that’s exaggerated or there’s nothing there—there’s definitely something there,” Melbye said. “As an American, I’m outraged at that whole episode.”
Campbell, Cain, Melbye, and others appear to have more than enough inside information relating to Uranium One to demonstrate widespread corruption at the highest levels of the Obama administration. In addition, more whistleblowers are expected to come forward with more bombshell reports.
6. Top GOP lawmakers are not going to let Uranium One be swept under the rug.
Former Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) has been tracking the Uranium One case since day one, and has sent numerous letters to Obama agencies to clarify their roles.
In a statement last month, Grassley said: “I’ve been pushing for years for more answers about this [the Uranium One] transaction that allowed the Russian government to acquire U.S. uranium assets. I’ve received classified and unclassified briefings about it from multiple agencies. And I’ve identified some FBI intelligence reports that may shed more light on the transaction. … If the Democrats want to be consistent, they’ll have to treat the Clinton, Uranium One, and Russia-related investigations the same [as the Mueller report]. Anything less than that reeks of political gamesmanship and sets a clear double standard.”
Barrasso expressed early concerns. In a 2010 letter to Obama, the senator warned: “This transaction would give the Russian government control over a sizable portion of America’s uranium production capacity. Equally alarming, this sale gives ARMZ [Uranium Holding Co.] a significant stake in uranium mines in Kazakhstan.”
More recently, Barrasso has pushed to expand the investigations of the sale and has demanded answers regarding Uranium One’s exports of nuclear materials outside the United States—an unacceptable development, as first reported by John Solomon.
Reps. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), and several of their colleagues—notably Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.) and Ron DeSantis (now Florida governor)—have repeatedly demanded answers about the Obama administration’s approval of the Russian takeover of Uranium One. GOP lawmakers introduced a resolution last year excoriating the Obama FBI and DOJ for their roles in the Spygate scandal, which they linked to the Uranium One scandal.
It’s safe to say that these lawmakers are invested in the full exposure of Uranium One events and bringing swift justice to the Obama officials who were responsible.
7. President Trump and Attorney General Barr appear to be ready to drop the hammer.
Barr has found the Uranium One matter significant and worthy of a full investigation. In a 2017 interview with The New York Times, Barr said that the DOJ was “abdicating its responsibility” if it wasn’t investigating the Clinton Foundation vis-à-vis the Uranium One deal. In Barr’s confirmation hearing this year, Democrats grilled him on his support for the Uranium One “conspiracy theory.” While Barr seemed to distance himself during the hearing, New York Times reporter Peter Baker subsequently leaked an email in which Barr said he “believed that the predicate for investigating the uranium deal, as well as the foundation, is far stronger than any basis for investigating so-called, ‘collusion.’”
It’s clear that Barr doesn’t believe that the Uranium One deal has been fully investigated.
To date, Trump has been fully cleared of all allegations of collusion with Russia. Multiple separate investigations led by special counsel Mueller, the House Intelligence Committee, and the Senate Intelligence Committee have all concluded that there was no collusion. And yet, Democrats in Congress now want Mueller to testify and want to hold Barr in contempt if he doesn’t surrender himself to their endless interrogations.
If the Democrats want to go to war with Barr, he appears to have more than enough evidence to expose corruption that would crush the Obama administration and its defenders—starting with Spygate and ending with Uranium One.
At its core, the Uranium One deal is quite simple: Putin wanted long-term access to the U.S. nuclear supply chain. Decision-makers in Washington were under no obligation to give Putin what he wanted. Politics aside, does anyone really think that Putin deserves any access to an industry critical to the American energy sector and national security? Of course not.
Yet, in 2010, the Obama administration acquiesced and Putin gained a significant stake in an industry critical to U.S. energy and national security. Period.
Seamus Bruner is the author of the book “Compromised: How Money and Politics Drive FBI Corruption.”