During an interview with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt on Thursday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions would not say whether he’d recuse himself from any investigations into the Uranium One deal that has resurfaced in the wake of a new report by The Hill. The story, which stems back to 2015, has also been pushed by President Trump who complained last week that no one was covering it. (It has, in fact, been covered extensively before.)
Hewitt began by asking whether Sessions was “recused from the investigation into the Steele dossier and GPS Fusion”, to which Sessions replied, “Well… I’ve not made a formal announcement on what kind of recusal I might have there, but I could well be.”
Hewitt followed up by asking Sessions directly about the Uranium One deal.
“How about the Uranium One case? Are you recused from that?” he asked.
Sessions stumbled, offering no clear answer on the subject.
“Well… of course there was one case that’s already been prosecuted, and, um…. People have been sentenced on,” he said. “As to what may happen after that… if anything, I’m not able to comment.”
— Hugh Hewitt (@hughhewitt) October 26, 2017
Hoping to clarify Sessions’ vague response, Hewitt asked whether the attorney general was recused from any investigations into the Clinton Foundation.
“Um… yes,” Sessions replied.
Sessions previously recused himself from the Russia investigation after it was discovered he had met with several Russian officials during the 2016 election season. The full extent of his involvement in the case — which focuses on claims that Russia colluded with members of the Trump campaign to damage rival Hillary Clinton and sway the election in Trump’s favor — is still unknown.
Sessions also recused himself from any investigations into the Clinton Foundation back in January, saying that his comments about the former Democratic nominee during the campaign “place[d his] objectivity in question.”
“I believe the proper thing for me to do would be for me to recuse myself,” he said during his confirmation hearing. “I believe that would be the best approach for the country because we can never have a political dispute turn into a criminal dispute. This country does not punish its political enemies.”
Given his prior admissions, it stands to reason that Sessions should recuse himself from the Uranium One case as well, since it deals with a number of unsubstantiated claims about Clinton. If nothing else, Sessions should at least understand the convoluted and shaky nature of the Uranium One controversy before launching any investigations into it.
The Uranium One deal, according to The Hill and The New York Times, which covered the story at length in 2015, is supposedly entwined with Clinton, who was secretary of state at the time of the sale. More specifically, her critics allege that the Clinton Foundation is at the root of the controversy, so any investigations into the Uranium One deal would, undoubtedly, be interlinked with investigations into Clinton’s charity.
That is, if she actually had a role in the Uranium One deal. The Uranium One controversy and most of the theories about Clinton’s part in the matter have been largely debunked, save for a few details.
In 2009, the Canadian Uranium One mining company, headquartered in Toronto, Ontario, sold 17 percent of its shares to Rosatom, Russia’s state-run nuclear energy agency. In 2013, Rosatom’s subsidiary, ARMZ Uranium Holding Co., purchased 100 percent of Uranium One’s shares at a price tag of $1.3 billion, effectively making Rosatom the company’s new owner.
According to PolitiFact, because the sale involved a foreign entity taking over a controlling share in a uranium operation based partially in the United States (as PolitiFact notes, it has “mines, mills and tracts of land in Wyoming, Utah and other U.S. states equal to about 20 percent of U.S. uranium production capacity), the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) — of which Clinton, then secretary of state, was a member — would have to approve the deal. It did, perhaps hoping, as the Times noted, to improve relations with the Kremlin and convince Russia to take a favorable stance on the Iran deal.
Conservatives and critics have specifically claimed that Clinton had “veto” power to stop the deal from moving forward. However, that’s simply not the case. Once CFIUS approved the deal, the president had to sign off on it or, if he decided not to, he could quash it. As a member of CFIUS, Clinton had the power to force the president to make a decision, but was not able to actually decide for him.
The Hill report added to the controversy last week, however, by claiming that, at the same time CFIUS was approving the Uranium One deal, “the FBI had gathered substantial evidence that Russian nuclear industry officials were engaged in bribery, kickbacks, extortion and money laundering designed to grow Vladimir Putin’s atomic energy business inside the United States.”
The timing was sketchy, but as The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple pointed out, the report also states that “multiple current and former government officials” who spoke with The Hill were unsure whether intelligence officials ever actually disclosed this to CFIUS ahead of the sale.
The final kicker in the Hill report — one upon which conservatives have pounced — came in the form of this line: “[Officials] also obtained an eyewitness account — backed by documents — indicating Russian nuclear officials had routed millions of dollars to the U.S. designed to benefit former President Bill Clinton’s charitable foundation during the time Secretary of State Hillary Clinton served on a government body that provided a favorable decision to Moscow….”
However, that claim was clarified by Circa’s Sara A. Carter, who noted that the “millions of dollars” to which The Hill was referring was actually paid out by Russian nuclear fuel company Tenex to American lobbying firm APCO Worldwide Inc., in order to obtain influence on the Hill. Tenex’s top executive, Vadim Mikerin, was the individual being investigated by the FBI and mentioned in the Hill report. As Sessions mentioned on Thursday, Mikerin has already been convicted of a separate count of conspiracy to commit money laundering and, in 2015, was sentenced to 48 months in prison.
APCO previously provided pro-bono services to The Clinton Foundation in 2007-2008, for an entirely separate matter, but the Hill report doesn’t make that clear. Rather, it conflates a payment made by someone only tangentially related to the Clinton Foundation with a direct funneling of money to the foundation itself by a Russian actor. This simply isn’t the case.
In a statement to Circa, APCO noted, that it “was not involved on any aspect of Uranium One, or the CFIUS process relating to it” and that its “work for Tenex and APCO’s work for the Clinton Global Initiative were separate and unconnected, publicly documented from the outset, and fully consistent with all regulations and US law.”
Despite this, conservatives in Congress have pushed for a formal inquiry into the matter.
“This is just the beginning of this probe,” House Intelligence Committee Chair Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) told reporters on Tuesday. “We are not going to jump to any conclusions at this time, but one of the things as you know that we are concerned about is whether or not there was an FBI investigation, was there a DOJ investigation, and if so, why was Congress not informed of this matter.”
Whether Attorney General Sessions will play a part in any subsequent investigations into the matter is, as he noted on Thursday, still up in the air.