The FBI had intelligence on a Russian bribery, kickback, extortion, and money laundering scheme on U.S. soil aimed at growing Moscow’s nuclear interests well before the Obama administration approved two controversial nuclear deals with Russia, The Hill reported on Tuesday citing government documents and interviews.
One of the deals, approved in 2010, gave Russia control of 20 percent of the U.S. uranium supply. Leading up to the deal, Russians wired millions of dollars to former President Bill Clinton’s charitable foundation at a time when Hillary Clinton presided over a department involved in approving the deal. While this activity was reported on by The New York Times in 2015, The Hill’s John Solomon and Alison Spann found that the FBI had an eyewitness account as well supporting documents of the activity as early as 2009.
The Department of Justice was aware of the case, but instead of bringing charges in 2009, it investigated for four more years while the Obama administration backed the nuclear deals with Russia. The evidence gathered by Solomon and Spann suggests that the FBI kept the American public and Congress in the dark about the Russian criminal activity at a time when that insight could have played a key role in informing the U.S. officials who signed off on the deals.
The federal agents used a confidential witness within the Russian nuclear industry as part of the investigation. That informant collected financial records, made secret recordings, and intercepted emails beginning in 2009 that showed Russian businessmen compromising an American uranium trucking firm with bribes, kickbacks, and even threats, according to documents from courts and the FBI.
“The Russians were compromising American contractors in the nuclear industry with kickbacks and extortion threats, all of which raised legitimate national security concerns,” a person who worked on the case said. “And none of that evidence got aired before the Obama administration made those decisions.”
The Russian activity was backed by high-level officials who later shared in the kickbacks, one agent wrote in an affidavit letter.
The two U.S.-Russia deals in question happened in 2010 and 2011. The U.S. State Department approved a deal for Russia’s state-controlled nuclear giant, Rosatom, to purchase Canadian mining company Uranium One in 2010. That deal gave Russia control of one-fifth of the United States’ uranium.
Controversy about the Uranium One deal has brewed for years with revelations that Bill Clinton collected hundreds of thousands of dollars in speaking fees in Russia while his wife led the department involved in approving the deal.
Hillary Clinton’s spokesman deflected the claims when they surfaced, saying that she was not involved in the review of the deal and that a State Department official claimed that she ““never intervened … on any [Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States] matter.”
The second deal allowed a Rosatom subsidiary, Tenex, to sell enriched uranium to U.S. nuclear plants. Before that, Tenex could only sell uranium recovered from dismantled Russian nuclear weapons.
Eric Holder was the attorney general when the Uranium One deal was approved. He attended the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States with Hillary Clinton, but a number of officials in both the FBI and DOJ don’t know if members of the committee were ever notified of Russian criminal activity.
Spokespeople for Hillary Clinton, Eric Holder, and the DOJ did not return The Hill’s requests for comment.
When the DOJ finally brought a case against the Russians involved in criminal activity, the department did not make much fanfare about it, with a single press release about the case appearing on the DOJ website a year after it had started, noting that one person was charged with a single count of money laundering.
The lack of public disclosure about the case left many key officials in the dark. Even the assistant FBI director in charge of criminal cases was not made aware of the trial despite the criminal charges.
The chair of the House Intelligence Committee at the time of the FBI probe, Mike Rogers, said he was never told of the case despite multiple lawmakers having serious concerns about the Obama administration’s Uranium One deal.
“Not providing information on a corruption scheme before the Russian uranium deal was approved by U.S. regulators and engage appropriate congressional committees has served to undermine U.S. national security interests by the very people charged with protecting them,” Rogers said. “The Russian efforts to manipulate our American political enterprise [are] breathtaking.”
For documents related to the investigation and further details, see The Hill.