A trio of Republican representatives announced Tuesday that congressional committees would open a probe into Russia’s acquisition of U.S. uranium reserves, including the Justice Department’s mysterious handling of bribery and money-laundering allegations.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) told reporters that it is important to find out what the FBI knew and whether that information reached top officials in former President Barack Obama’s administration, which approved the sale of a controlling stake of Uranium One to a subsidiary of the Russian state-owned nuclear energy giant Rosatom.
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“This is just the beginning of this probe,” Nunes said. “We’re not gonna jump to any conclusions at this time, but one of the things, as you know, that we’re 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?”
The Uranium One deal, which involved a fifth of America’s uranium reserves, required the approval of the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States. The transaction did not receive a great deal of attention at the time but did burst into prominence in 2015 when the book “Clinton Cash,” by Peter Schweizer, exposed Hillary Clinton’s role in the approval as secretary of state. The New York Times also wrote about it, highlighting donations to the family-run Clinton Foundation and a $500,000 speaking fee Bill Clinton pocketed for a speech in Moscow.
The issue gained renewed attention last week after The Hill reported that the FBI began a criminal investigation as early as 2009. But the Justice Department moved slowly in the investigation and did not bring charges until years later. It barely mentioned the case when Vadim Mikerin, a Russian-born financier who was overseeing Russian President Vladimir Putin’s nuclear expansion in the United States, pleaded guilty in 2014 to money laundering.
An intriguing angle of the story centers on a confidential informant who assisted the FBI’s investigation. He has indicated that he is willing to testify but has been blocked by a nondisclosure agreement (NDA) he signed.
Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.), a member of the House Oversight Committee, told reporters that congressional leaders will try to get the Justice Department to cancel the agreement.
“If that doesn’t work out, then we obviously would be able to subpoena him,” he said. “You know, on the Oversight Committee, particularly on my subcommittee, we’ll be focusing on how the interagency process worked on this. We don’t think that it worked out very well.”
Victoria Toensing, a lawyer who represents the informant, welcomed the congressional investigation.
“I didn’t think my knocking on the FBI’s door was going to get the NDA lifted,” she told LifeZette.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) wrote to the Justice Department last week, asking the department to respond by November 1 to a request to lift the nondisclosure agreement. Attorney General Jeff Sessions last week promised to review the deal but did not specifically address the agreement.
“I am perplexed why this was not done immediately,” Toensing said.
The lawyer said she finds it curious that the Justice Department would ask an informant to sign such an agreement.
“I certainly didn’t know of it” in other cases, she said. “I’m told that they’re starting to do that in counterintelligence investigations, which is what this started out as.”
Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) reminded reporters at the news conference that he raised concerns about the Uranium One deal seven years ago this month. He said those concerns reached the top levels of the Obama administration because he received a response to his letter from then-Treasury Secretary Timothy Geitner promising that the issue would receive scrutiny.
“It’s important that we find out why that deal went through and certainly in view of recent allegations that have been made and recent questions that have been raised, it’s essential that this investigation, this inquiry, go forward,” he said.
Toensing said the story has attracted a strange lack of curiosity on the part of most mainstream news organizations.
“Crickets from the rest of the press,” she said. “It’s only the conservative press that has covered this.”