We already know how republican apologists answer the tough questions. They deflect by pointing out (whataboutism) to something that someone else has done that is even minutely similar. Lately, when the republican President Donald Trump’s surrogates have been questioned about his team having worked with Russia, they respond with the allegations of a “quid pro quo” deal by Hillary Clinton, when she was the US secretary of state, giving Russia ownership of one-fifth of U.S. uranium deposits in exchange for $145 million in donations to the Clinton Foundation. The fact checkers at Snopes.com, have concluded that this claim is unsubstantiated.
Here’s the rest of the story...
On 10/25/16 David Emery of Snopes fact checked a favorite republican talking point, “Russian to Judgment”
Sec. of State Hillary Clinton’s approval of a deal to transfer control of 20% of U.S. uranium deposits to a Russian company was a quid pro quo exchange for donations to the Clinton Foundation. See Example(s)
In the months leading up to the 2016 US presidential election, stories abounded about the relationships between the Clinton Foundation and various foreign entities.
May 2015 saw the publication of a book called Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Governments and Businesses Helped Make Bill and Hillary Rich, an exposé of alleged Clinton Foundation corruption written by Peter Schweizer, a former Hoover Institution fellow and editor-at-large at the right-wing media company Breitbart.
A chapter in the book suggests that the Clinton family and Russia each may have benefited from a “pay-for-play” scheme while Hillary Clinton was secretary of state, involving the transfer of U.S. uranium reserves to the new Russian owners of an international mining operation in exchange for $145 million in donations to the Clinton Foundation.
The mining company, Uranium One, was originally based in South Africa, but merged in 2007 with Canada-based UrAsia Energy. Shareholders there retained a controlling interest until 2010, when Russia’s nuclear agency, Rosatom, completed purchase of a 51% stake. Hillary Clinton played a part in the transaction because it involved the transfer of ownership of a material deemed important to national security — uranium, amounting to one-fifth of U.S. reserves — thus requiring the approval of the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), on which the U.S. Secretary of State sits.
During the same time frame that the acquisition took place, Schweizer claims in Clinton Cash, the Clinton Foundation accepted contributions from nine individuals associated with Uranium One totaling more than $100 million. Among those who followed him in citing the transaction as an example of alleged Clinton corruption was GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump, who said during a June 2016 speech in New York City:
Hillary Clinton’s State Department approved the transfer of 20% of America’s uranium holdings to Russia, while nine investors in the deal funneled $145 million to the Clinton Foundation.
An image circulating via social media during the final months of the presidential campaign asked the question, “So Hillary, if Russia is such a threat, why did you sell them 20% of our uranium? Are you a liar, or a traitor, or both?”
The Uranium One deal was not Clinton’s to veto or approve
Among the ways these accusations stray from the facts is in attributing a power of veto or approval to Secretary Clinton that she simply did not have. Clinton was one of nine cabinet members and department heads that sit on the CFIUS, and the secretary of the treasury is its chairperson. CFIUS members are collectively charged with evaluating the transaction for potential national security issues, then turning their findings over to the president. By law, the committee can’t veto a transaction; only the president can. According to The NY Times, Clinton may not have even directly participated in the Uranium One decision. Then-Assistant Secretary of State Jose Fernandez, whose job it was to represent the State Dept. on CFIUS, said Clinton herself “never intervened” in committee matters.
Despite transfer of ownership, the uranium remained in the U.S.
A key fact ignored in criticisms of Clinton’s supposed involvement in the deal is that the uranium was not — nor could it be — exported, and remained under the control of U.S.-based subsidiaries of Uranium One, according to a statement by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission:
NRC’s review of the transfer of control request determined that the U.S. subsidiaries will
remain the licensees, will remain qualified to conduct the uranium recovery operations, and will continue to have the equipment, facilities, and procedures necessary to protect public health and safety and to minimize danger to life or property. The review also determined that the licensees will maintain adequate financial surety for eventual decommissioning of the sites. Neither Uranium One nor ARMZ holds an NRC export license, so no uranium produced at either facility may be exported.
The timing of most of the donations does not match
Of the $145 million allegedly contributed to the Clinton Foundation by Uranium One investors, the lion’s share — $131.3 million — came from a single donor, Frank Giustra, the company’s founder. But Giustra sold off his entire stake in the company in 2007, three years before the Russia deal and at least 18 months before Clinton became secretary of state.
Of the remaining individuals connected with Uranium One who donated to the Clinton Foundation, only one was found to have contributed during the same time frame that the deal was taking place, accordingto The New York Times — Ian Telfer, the company’s chairman:
His donations through the Fernwood Foundation included $1 million reported in 2009, the year his company appealed to the American Embassy to help it keep its mines in Kazakhstan; $250,000 in 2010, the year the Russians sought majority control; as well as $600,000 in 2011 and $500,000 in 2012. Mr. Telfer said that his donations had nothing to do with his business dealings, and that he had never discussed Uranium One with Mr. or Mrs. Clinton. He said he had given the money because he wanted to support Mr. Giustra’s charitable endeavors with Mr. Clinton. “Frank and I have been friends and business partners for almost 20 years,” he said.
The timing of Telfer’s donations might be questionable if there was reason to believe that Hillary Clinton was instrumental in the approval of the deal with Russia, but all the evidence points to the contrary — that Clinton did not play a pivotal role, and, in fact, may not have played any role at all.
Foundation admits disclosure mistakes
One fault investigations into the Clinton Foundation’s practices did find was that not all of the donations were properly disclosed — specifically, those of Uranium One Chairman Ian Telfer between 2009 and 2012. The foundation admitted this shortcoming and pledged to correct it, but as the Guardian pointed out in its May 2015 discussion of Clinton Cash, the fact that it happened is reason enough to sound alarm bells:
It is also true that large donations to the foundation from the chairman of Uranium One, Ian Telfer, at around the time of the Russian purchase of the company and while Hillary Clinton was secretary of state, were never disclosed to the public. The multimillion sums were channeled through a subsidiary of the Clinton Foundation, CGSCI, which did not reveal its individual donors.
Such awkward collisions between Bill’s fundraising activities and Hillary’s public service have raised concerns not just among those who might be dismissed as part of a vast right-wing conspiracy.
An enormous volume of interest and speculation surrounds the workings of the Clinton Foundation, which is to be expected. Given the enormous sums of money it controls and the fact that it is run by a former U.S. president, the foundation deserves all the scrutiny it gets, and more.
At the same time, for the sake of accuracy it’s crucial to differentiate between partisan accusations and what we actually know about it — however little that may be.