During the 2016 presidential race, erstwhile candidate Donald Trump accused Hillary Clinton of profiting from the sale of US-origin uranium to Russia. Evidence has been revealed that the FBI had uncovered a Russian bribery plot before the Obama administration approved the controversial sale that compromises Hillary Clinton and the Clinton Foundation. Trump said at a campaign rally in October 2016, “Hillary Clinton gave them 20 percent of our uranium — gave Russia for a big payment.” A voice-over in one of his campaign ads noted about Clinton: “She even handed over American uranium rights to the Russians.”

In the wake of Trump’s accusations, a Clinton spokesperson said the Democratic party’s candidate was not involved in the committee review and noted the State Department official who handled it said she “never intervened ... on any [Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States - CFIUS] matter.”

The Obama administration approved Rosatom’s Tenex subsidiary to sell commercial uranium to U.S. nuclear power plants in a partnership with the United States Enrichment Corp in 2011. Until then, Tenex had been limited to selling reprocessed uranium recovered from dismantled Soviet nuclear weapons to US energy companies under the 1990s Megatons to Megawatts program.

Before the approval went through, which gave control to Russia of much of American uranium, the FBI had found considerable evidence that Russian officials were resorting to bribery, money laundering, kickbacks, and extortion to foster the Russian atomic energy business in the United States. A confidential witness cooperating with the FBI inside Russia’s atomic energy community gathered financial records, intercepted emails, and made recordings going back to 2009 to show that Russia had influenced a trucking company in the US with bribes and kickbacks. FBI and court documents allege that the company had violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. 

An eyewitness account, bolstered by documents, showed that Russian officials had spent millions of dollars in the US to the benefit of the Clinton Foundation while Hillary Clinton was serving as Barack Obama’s secretary of state, thus having influence over whether Russia would be granted the uranium deal, according The Hill. 

Instead of bringing charges against the relevant parties in 2010, the Department of Justice under Attorney General Eric Holder decided to investigate for another four years. It was thus that Americans and Congress had no knowledge about corruption sponsored by Russia during the time that the Obama administration was making decisions about selling uranium to Russia. 

In 2010, both the State Department and the federal agencies represented on the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States approved the sale of Uranium One -- a Canadian mining company -- and thus gave control of more than 20 percent of America’s uranium supply to Russia. 

National security threat? No problem

Then, in 2011, the Obama administration approved the sale of commercial-grade uranium by Tenex (a subsidiary of the Rosatom company of Russia) to American nuclear power plants in partnership with the United States Enrichment Corp. Until then, Tenex was only authorized to sell uranium recovered from decommissioned Soviet nuclear weapons to American nuclear power plants. According to The Hill, a source claimed that Russians influenced American contractors with kickbacks and extortion threats. These national security threats were not considered before the Obama administration approved the sale. 

The New York Times and author Peter Schweitzer documented in 2015 that Bill Clinton had earned hundreds of thousands of dollars in speaking fees from Russian sources, while the Clinton Foundation garnered millions of dollars in donations when Hillary Clinton was leading the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States. Hillary and Bill Clinton, as well as the Obama administration, insisted that there was no evidence that any donors were doing anything wrong and that members of the committee found no reason on the basis of national security to oppose the deal. Erstwhile Attorney General Eric Holder was also on the committee.

However, court documents reviewed by The Hill indicate that the FBI and the Energy Department had collected evidence that Vadim Mikerin -- a Russian who led Russia’s nuclear business in the US -- had been engaged in criminal activities. 

Schweizer’s book — “Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Governments and Businesses Helped Make Bill and Hillary Rich” — addresses the issue of foreign donations to the Clinton Foundation. While Schweizer has been criticized for saying during a Fox News interview in 2015 that Hillary Clinton had "veto power" over the sale and "could have stopped the deal," he later amended his remarks when challenged by Chris Wallace on Fox News.

According to government guidelines, CFIUS can approve a sale, but it cannot stop a sale. Only the president is authorized to so so, only if the committee recommends or “any member of CFIUS recommends suspension or prohibition of the transaction,” according to guidelines issued by the Treasury Department. The December 8, 2008 rule adopted by the Treasury Department reads: "Only the President has the authority to suspend or prohibit a covered transaction. Pursuant to section 6(c) of Executive Order 11858, CFIUS refers a covered transaction to the President if CFIUS or any member of CFIUS recommends suspension or prohibition of the transaction, or if CFIUS otherwise seeks a Presidential determination on the transaction."

While the "veto" issue is still to be determined, the issue of Russian payments to the Clinton Foundation merited attention not only from Trump, but also his Republican rival, Mitt Romney, and Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY). Both of them called for investigations into the Clinton Foundation.

A plea deal over national security threat

The Obama administration and the Clintons defended their actions at the time, insisting there was no evidence that any Russians or donors engaged in wrongdoing and there was no national security reason for any member of the committee to oppose the Uranium One deal.

But FBI, Energy Department and court documents reviewed by The Hill show the FBI in fact had gathered substantial evidence well before the committee’s decision that Vadim Mikerin — the main Russian overseeing Putin’s nuclear expansion inside the United States — was engaged in wrongdoing starting in 2009. According to The Hill, officials now serving in the government have joined former officials in saying that they do not know whether the FBI or DOJ alerted members of the committee about any criminal activities. 

Vadim Mikerin came to the US on a visa approved by the Obama administration to open Rosatom’s new American subsidiary: Tenam. According to a November 2014 indictment, it was between 2009 and January 2012 that Mikerin “did knowingly and willfully combine, conspire confederate and agree with other persons … to obstruct, delay and affect commerce and the movement of an article and commodity (enriched uranium) in commerce by extortion.”

An American businessman cooperated with the FBI as an informant and made kickbacks at Mikerin’s direction but with the permission of the FBI. The first kickback payment came on November 27, 2009. In later affidavits, an Energy Department agent assigned to assist the FBI in the case said that Mikerin’s “racketeering scheme” involved extortion, bribery, money laundering and kickbacks that benefited senior officials in Russia. An FBI agent testified that Mikerin worked by executives at Tenex and Rosatom to offer no-bid contracts to American businesses in exchange for kickbacks that went to offshore banks. The proceeds were shared with conspirators at Tenex and elsewhere. 

Comey-Rosenstein-McCabe triad

The investigation was ultimately supervised by then-U.S. Attorney Rod Rosenstein. Rosenstein was appointed to that post by Barack Obama, and now serves as Deputy Attorney General under Attorney General Jeff Sessions. In addition, Andrew McCabe, who is now the deputy FBI director under Trump, was also an investigator. 

Rosenstein and McCabe are now investigating supposed collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian officials during the 2016 presidential campaign. McCabe is now under investigation himself because of allegations that his wife’s Virginia state Senate campaign received funds from now-Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe in 2015 when McAuliffe was reportedly under investigation by the FBI.

The Mueller connection

The investigation into Mikerin and the racketeering began when Robert Mueller was serving as FBI director. Mueller is now the special counsel in charge of the Trump case. The investigation came to a close at the end of 2015 when James Comey, who was fired by President Trump, was serving as director of the FBI. 

Despite having exposed a serious national security breach that showed that Russians had compromised a sensitive uranium transportation asset within the US, as well as international money laundering, the FBI appeared to take little credit for the investigation. In 2014, Mikerin and the trucking firm executives were arrested and charged. It was not until August 2015 that a press release informed the public that Mikerin and the other defendants had reached a plea deal to the more minor charge of money laundering stretching from 2004 to 2014. Even though investigators had evidence of criminal acts going back to 2009, prosecutors cited only a few money laundering transactions that occurred from 2011 and 2012, after the uranium deal was approved by Hillary Clinton and her committee. The evidence of the transfer of millions of dollars to the Clinton Foundation did not enter into the final court case. 
 



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Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat and the editor of Spero News.

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