Stuck with a low approval rating, stalled legislative agenda, and, of course, the ever-widening gyre of the Mueller probe, the Trump administration and its allies could really use a distraction right about now.
And they may have found one, in a strange, so-called scandal centered on the Russian government-controlled mining company Uranium One. Trump and the right-wing media have alleged, without proof, that the company was given uranium production rights under Hillary Clinton’s State Department in exchange for donations to the Clinton Foundation.
Now, the DOJ is looking into hiring another special prosecutor for the matter, although Attorney General Jeff Sessions said there wasn’t enough evidence during Congressional testimony on Tuesday.
What is Uranium One?
Uranium One is a Canada-based mining company, with mining stakes in parts of the United States. In 2010, the company sold a majority stake to JSC Atomredmetzoloto (also known as ARMZ Uranium Holding), a Russian uranium mining firm controlled by the Russian government. At the time, the deal effectively put 20 percent of the United States’ productive capacity for uranium in Russian hands.
How was Clinton involved?
The Committee on Foreign Investments in the United States (CFIUS) — an interagency council that includes nine Cabinet members, such as the attorney general and secretary of state — oversees deals like the Uranium One purchase with national security implications. In 2010, Hillary Clinton, as President Barack Obama’s Secretary of State, sat on the committee.
Before and after the deal went through, the chairman of Uranium One and others with ties to the company gave millions of dollars to the Clinton Foundation for unclear reasons, according to a 2015 New York Times story and further explained in a book by journalist Peter Schweizer, Clinton Cash. The Clintons, however, did not disclose the money appropriately despite promising they would; they apologized for this “mistake” after the Times story dropped.
The Committee on Foreign Investments, however, doesn’t have the power to block these deals — only to give them a stamp of approval. Veto power rests only with the President, and Clinton only got one vote on the committee.. Schweizer even admitted that Schweizer even admitted that no evidence existed that she or the Clinton Foundation influenced the decision in any significant way.
So why are conservatives freaking out?
During the summer of the 2016 election, Trump badly cribbed Schweizer’s reporting and wrongly suggested that the Russians had paid Clinton to support their takeover of Uranium One. At that time, it was just another misleading piece of evidence that Trump used against “Crooked Hillary.”
But now, outlets like Breitbart and Fox News have seized on the allegation again after a disputed report in the Hill claimed that the FBI had uncovered a Russian bribery plot to increase Vladimir Putin’s stake in the American atomic energy business before the Uranium One deal went through.
Right-wing media has since begun calling for an investigation of Clinton (who does not appear to be active in national politics any longer) and the Democrats. In turn, House Intel Committee chairman Devin Nunes, smarting from his own bruises during the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, to open his own probe in late October which has yet to uncover any new information.
In the last couple weeks, Trump has suggested that the Justice Department look into the issue, barreling past the traditional firewall between the White House and federal law enforcement. Although the DOJ told the House Judiciary Committee on Monday that it was considering appointing a special counsel, Sessions told the group on Tuesday the move wasn’t necessary yet.
Some right-wingers have gone so far as to argue that because Bob Mueller, the special counsel already overseeing the Russia investigation, was FBI Director at the time of the deal, he should be dismissed.