Supporters of President Donald Trump have pushed back after the special prosecutor investigating Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election indicted two top aides from the President’s 2016 campaign, saying that the real shroud of scandal surrounds Hillary Clinton.
Just two days after a grand jury in Washington approved the first indictments stemming from Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller’s investigation, Mr Trump tweeted about the “Uranium to Russia deal”, and sympathetic news outlets circled the wagon with him and pointed outward at the woman who lost the 2016 election.
Mr Trump, and the many conservative news outlets who followed his lead, was referring to the 2010 sale of Uranium One, when a Russian company acquired a majority stake in a Canadian company with uranium mines in the United States
What is Uranium One?
Uranium One is a 12-year-old company based in Toronto that is owned by the Rosatom Global Mining company, Russia’s state-owned nuclear technology corporation. The company operates a uranium mine in Willow Creek, Wyoming.
The company is said to own mills and tracts of land in Wyoming and Utah and other states that amount to about 20 per cent of the US uranium production capacity, but its actual production is smaller, at about 11 per cent in 2014, according to Oilprice.com.
What’s the issue?
Ms Clinton’s State Department approved the sale of Uranium One to Rosatom in 2010, and Mr Trump latched onto the deal in 2016 to attack her and charge that her family’s charitable foundation, the Clinton Foundation, had accepted $145 million in donations from Uranium One investors in exchange for the deal getting green lit - something the Clinton's have denied.
Mr Trump is now arguing that that deal amounts to collusion between Ms Clinton and Russia.
The issue first emerged in the 2015 book Clinton Cash, alongside an investigation by the New York Times published in April 2015.
What are the facts here?
The deal was approved by a nine-member interagency group known as the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, and was ultimately approved by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Rosatom had previously purchased 17 per cent of Uranium One’s shares in 2009.
The interagency group is composed of the following departments: State, Defence, Treasury, Commerce, Energy, ad Homeland Security. The US attorney general’s office also has a say, as does the US Trade Representative, and the Office of Science and Technology Policy. That means that Ms Clinton’s department was not the only federal agency with a say in the sale.
The Clinton Foundation did receive some money from at least one Uranium One investor, but it appears that other claims were overblown. That investor was Ian Telfer, who donated between $1.3 million and $5.6 million to the foundation during and after the review.
But, the main Uranium One donor to the foundation, Frank Giustra, divested himself from his stake in the company three years before it was sold., and 18 months before Ms Clinton became secretary of State.
Separately, The New York Times reported last year that former President Bill Clinton was paid $500,000 to give a speech to a conference in Moscow in 2010.
Why has this come up again?
After the 2016 election, the issue largely fell to the wayside, presumably because Ms Clinton was a private citizen and not a public figure running for office. But, a recent report in The Hill found that the FBI had been investigating whether Russia was attempting to gain influence in the American nuclear industry.
That report said that, at the time of the Uranium One approval, the FBI had already found substantial evidence that Russian nuclear officials had engaged in bribery, kickbacks, extortion, and money laundering to expand in the US.
But, that report also noted that the Justice Department had continued to investigate for nearly four years after its finding rather than telling the American public and Congress about Russia’s nuclear corruption in the US. During that time the Obama administration made two decisions that benefited Russia’s nuclear ambitions in America.
So far there is not any evidence that indicates Ms Clinton knew about the FBI investigation, and several officials have said they weren’t aware of the operation.
That includes an assistant FBI director in charge of criminal cases during investigations at the time, Ronald Hosko, who told the Hill he wasn’t aware of the investigation. Republican Representative Mike Rogers, the then-chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, also said that he wasn’t aware of the operation.
It’s not clear that Ms Clinton would’ve been briefed on the issue, unless she was asked to weigh in on the transaction, which it seems likely would not have happened since the Uranium One deal was not controversial.
Is Uranium mining integral to America’s national security?
Not really. While the US does have nuclear power plants and a stockpile of nuclear weapons (which make up a small part of US uranium usage), 90 per cent of the uranium used in the country is imported from countries like Canada and Kazakhstan, according to the Department of Energy.
The uranium market in the US, meanwhile, has been shrinking lately. Nuclear plant operators have been shuttering their locations since 2012, announcing the closure of a least six plants in that time. And, six nuclear power plants is not an insignificant number: The closures represent roughly 10 per cent of all the 61 nuclear power plants in America’s energy grid.
Meanwhile, the US atomic weapons stockpile that relies on uranium has been depleted on purpose in recent years.
Given the amount of attention spent on the issue, you may be surprised to find out that it really is not. American mines produced just 2.3 million pounds of uranium last year, according to the Department of Energy. That is the lowest level seen since 2004.
Plus, in order to add the uranium mined in the US to Russia's supply, they would need an export license, which is handed out by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Currently, Uranium One does not posses such a license.
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