A controversial 2010 deal that cleared the way for a Kremlin-backed company to gain control of a huge chunk of America’s uranium supply is getting new scrutiny as a Capitol Hill inquiry gears up to probe the Obama administration’s suspected silencing of an FBI informant who reportedly had information on high-level corruption by Russian nuclear officials who engineered the deal.
Congressional sources say the case, which has lurked behind the scenes in Washington for years and involves accusations of misconduct by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and questionable contributions to the family’s Clinton Foundation, could be about to blow open if the Trump administration approves a request by the Senate Judiciary Committee’s chairman to allow the FBI informant to testify.
President Trump focused new attention on the situation last week by telling reporters it represents the “real Russia story” that mainstream news organizations are refusing to cover out of deference to former President Barack Obama and Mrs. Clinton — the latter of whom is accused of direct involvement in suspected corruption involving the 2010 uranium deal.
While Mrs. Clinton was secretary of state, her department and several other federal agencies approved the sale of more than 20 percent of America’s uranium supply to Russia’s atomic energy giant Rosatom.
The New York Times later reported that at least one individual involved in the transaction donated some $2.35 million to the Clinton Foundation, donations that weren’t publicly disclosed by the Clintons, despite an agreement Mrs. Clinton had with the Obama White House to identify all donors to the foundation.
While Mrs. Clinton and fellow Democrats have long dismissed such revelations as part of a Republican smear campaign, the extent to which the donations may have had a role in Washington’s approval of the Russia uranium deal has never been resolved.
New life was breathed into the broader case last week after a series of articles by The Hill newspaper detailed how, in the year prior to the Obama administration’s approval of the deal, the FBI gathered evidence that Russian nuclear officials were engaged in “bribery, kickbacks, extortion and money laundering” to expand Moscow’s nuclear business inside the United States.
Rather than bring charges at the time, the Justice Department continued investigating the matter for nearly four more years, according to The Hill, leaving the American public and Congress in the dark about the accusations of Russian corruption during a period in which the Obama administration was approving the 2010 deal.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, Iowa Republican, called on the Justice Department on Wednesday to lift a nondisclosure agreement that he said prevented a former FBI confidential informant in the case from speaking to Congress about the handling of a criminal probe linked to the deal.
In a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Mr. Grassley wrote that the department, which has jurisdiction over the FBI, had threatened to prosecute the informant if he disclosed details about the investigation to lawmakers.
Mr. Grassley called for the informant be allowed to communicate with Congress without retaliation.
Lawyer Victoria Toensing, a former Reagan Justice Department official and former chief counsel of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, claims to be representing the informant, described as an “American businessman.” She told The Washington Times on Monday that she is optimistic her client will be cleared to testify.
A spokesman for Mr. Grassley said the senator’s request to the Justice Department has not received any response.
‘The real Russian story’
Mr. Trump, meanwhile, has seized on the renewed attention to the case. He accused news media of focusing incessantly on Russian meddling in the presidential election and charges of collusion between Trump campaign officials and Russian operatives, rather than seriously investigating the uranium deal.
“That’s your real Russia story — not a story where they talk about collusion and there was none. It was a hoax. Your real Russia story is uranium,” the president said during a meeting Thursday about Puerto Rico’s hurricane recovery efforts.
Mr. Trump has previously sought to link Mrs. Clinton to the uranium deal, in which the State Department and eight other U.S. agencies on the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States unanimously approved the partial sale of Canadian mining company Uranium One to Rosatom.
Democrats contend Mr. Trump and his allies are seeking to deflect from the Russian meddling probe conducted by special counsel Robert Mueller.
Mrs. Clinton told C-SPAN on Monday that the uranium story is “the same baloney they’ve been peddling for years, and there’s been no credible evidence by anyone.”
“In fact,” she added, “it’s been debunked repeatedly and will continue to be debunked.”
But during his presidential campaign, Mr. Trump frequently cited the deal for the uranium, which is used in nuclear reactors. He has returned to the issue at rallies during his presidency.
The president tweeted about the 2010 deal on Thursday morning, and administration officials have sought to bring attention to the transaction, which also was explored in “Clinton Cash,” a 2015 book by conservative author Peter Schweizer.
Mrs. Clinton’s State Department, however, was just one of nine U.S. government agencies that had to approve the deal. Her representatives have long said she was not involved in the approval process.
Mrs. Clinton said in a June 2015 interview with WMUR in New Hampshire that she “was not personally involved because that wasn’t something the secretary of state did.” Only the president can suspend or block a transaction reviewed by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States.
But Republicans have pointed to some of the investors in the 2010 deal and their ties to Bill Clinton. 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. Mr. Giustra has claimed that he sold his stake in the deal back in 2007 — well before Barack Obama became president and Mrs. Clinton became secretary of state in 2009.
PolitiFact has found that the majority of the donations from individuals related to Uranium One and UrAsia were made before and during Mrs. Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign.