Below is my column in the Hill Newspaper on the recent major indictment handed down in the Uranium One scandal. As I have stated in the media, the indictment does not alter my skepticism over the likelihood of any criminal charges against Clinton. However, it does reaffirm lingering questions over the many millions of dollars pocketed by the Clintons personally or given to their Foundation I think that there is little question about this money being given with the hopes of influencing the Clintons, and particularly Hillary Clinton. The only question is whether it succeeded. For that, we would need an independent and full investigation.
UPDATED: This column was updated to more clearly distinguish the two contracts involved in the Russian transport of uranium (in the Lambert indictment) and the purchase of U.S. uranium holdings (in the Uranium One purchase). The indictment concerns a contract to transport uranium with a subsidiary of Rosatom. This is the same agency at the heart of the Rosatom/Uranium One scandal but the contract occurred years before the purchase of Uranium One.
When the indictments came down against former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his aide, Rick Gates, the headline of a Washington Post article declared, “With money laundering charges against Paul Manafort, Trump’s ‘fake news’ charge is harder to defend.”
It did not matter that Manafort’s indictment was entirely removed from any campaign connection and involved financial dealings well before his association with Trump. The desire for an independent and full investigation of Donald Trump is understandable, given the serious allegations of Russian influence.
Yet, the same logic does not appear to apply outside of Trump World. The same politicians and experts have dismissed efforts to investigate allegations of influence peddling, Russian conspiracies and special deals involving Hillary or Bill Clinton.
One such controversy involves the sale of a company, Uranium One, that holds 20 percent of our uranium resources. Last week, the Justice Department secured an 11-count indictment in a controversy linked to the Russian nuclear agency at the heart of the Uranium One controversy. The indictment was brought against Mark Lambert, former head of a Maryland-based transportation company.
Uranium One was a Canadian uranium mining company with operations in the United States and other countries. In January 2013 Rosatom, the Russian state-owned uranium monopoly, bought the company at a value of $1.3 billion. The sale required the approval of a federal board that included then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, because these uranium reserves involve serious national security implications.
The Lambert indictment describes both a cover-up and a bribery scheme tied directly to activities of Rosatom, the Russian nuclear agency at center of the Uranium One scandal. While the specific contract involving these bribes dealt with a contract made years earlier for transportation of uranium, it revealed the depth of corrupt practices used by this subsidiary of Rosatom. Moreover, this is the third such indictment of officials associated with Rosatom contracts.
Lambert is accused of bribing a Russian official with Rosatom and hiding the payments with code words like “lucky figures,” “lucky numbers” and “cake.” Ultimately, Vadim Mikerin, the head of U.S. operations of a subsidiary of Rosatom, was sentenced to four years in prison for money laundering and other crimes. The indictment sheds more light on the corrupt practices associated with Rosatom.
I have previously stated that, while I believe this is an allegation worth investigating, I fail to see a strong case for a criminal charge against Hillary Clinton based on what we know of the deal. She was just one member of the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS). Nine government agencies participated on that board, and there does not appear to have been any dissenting votes. Ultimately, President Obama, not the board, approved the sale.
The sale, however, raises continuing concerns over the massive amounts of money given to the Clintons or their foundation. The payments peaked during Hillary Clinton’s tenure as secretary of State and the period leading up to her widely anticipated announcement as a presidential candidate. (They dropped sharply after she was defeated in November 2016.) Even State Department employees raised concerns over the Clintons receiving hundreds of millions for speeches or foundation contributions. At the same time, Bill Clinton was raking in millions from foreign sources with dealings with the State Department, including some of the world’s most shady figures.
While the Russian deal was pending, he received $500,000 for a speech to a Kremlin-tied bank supporting the sale. During this period, nine Uranium One investors gave the Clinton Foundation some $145 million. The company’s chairman alone donated $2.35 million to the foundation during the pendency of the Uranium One deal. The Clinton Foundation failed to report some foreign contributions, despite an agreement to do so, as well as a pledge by Hillary Clinton in prior congressional testimony. The omitted payments reportedly included some money linked to Uranium One.
Few people think all of these government and foreign sources poured money into the coffers of the Clintons or their foundation out of the goodness of their hearts. As the Washington Post has acknowledged, “There can be little doubt that Russians who donated to the Clinton Foundation were trying to curry favor with the secretary of State.” If so, why are such efforts by the Russians and other countries not worthy of a full investigation?
Notably, the Clinton controversy not only has allegations of Russian influence but efforts to collude. Unlike claims of the Russians trying to influence the election by revealing Clinton emails, these allegations involve concrete economic benefits and contracts being sought by corrupt means. It has been reported that the Russians pursued every possible avenue to influence Hillary Clinton, much as they did during the Trump campaign with figures such as George Papadopoulos.
An attorney for a former FBI informant in the Tenam case was quoted in The Hill as saying her client “witnessed numerous, detailed conversations in which Russian actors described their efforts to lobby, influence or ingratiate themselves with the Clintons in hopes of winning favorable uranium decisions from the Obama administration.”
As I have previously stated, none of this establishes a case for a pay-to-play scheme or some quid pro quo. However, it is curious how so many commentators and politicians cannot countenance even the investigation into such allegations, even after this major indictment. Like the Washington Post, most of us agree that millions were given to the Clintons, either personally or to their foundation, with a desire to influence them. The question is simply whether any of this money led to concrete benefits — or whether some of the world’s sleaziest figures were just hopeful chumps.
While it is certainly a challenge to prove a quid pro quo criminal case, it is equally difficult to prove some crime associated with collusion. Yet, that has not diminished the call to find if Russian information was used to secure access or action from Trump officials. Here, hundreds of millions of dollars were passed to the Clintons or their foundation, but critics insist there is “nothing to see here.”
Despite objections over their accepting this money, the Clinton recklessly accepted millions from every conceivable source. After being “dead broke” (according to Hillary Clinton) at the end of the Clinton administration, the couple soon amassed a reported fortune worth more than $150 million. Their conduct warrants investigation, not just on Uranium One but a host of possible special-dealing allegations.
The long-standing allegations of influence peddling involving the Clinton have never been fully investigated, and the call for such an investigation is not prejudging the results. I have long questioned the likelihood that Trump committed a crime associated with Russian collusion during the campaign. Nevertheless, I supported the special counsel investigation and the congressional investigations.
In the same vein, I fail to see why the public should not have an equally transparent, independent investigation of the Clinton controversies. The Trump allegations raise concerns over foreign influence in our election while the Clinton allegations raise concerns over foreign influence in our government.
The government may not be able to supply complete answers, but it can supply a complete record. The result is likely to embarrass many in Washington, in both parties, but the public is being played like chumps by those manipulating these investigations for political advantage. Without a full investigation on both sides, we are unlikely to remove the doubts of so many citizens about the conduct of our leaders.