The Russian Uranium Clinton Thing: A Primer

The Russian Uranium Clinton Thing is an old story being given new life in right-wing media to deflect attention from Trump’s Russian connection scandals. Right-wing media never bother to address the question of why one story is supposed to cancel out the other, but never mind. I’m bringing it up now because (1) it’s stupid; and (2) it’s new to a lot of people. The Russian Uranium Clinton Thing was a thing last year during the primaries, also, but I don’t believe I mentioned it then. I have been filing it under the heading of Shit That Looks Bad But There’s Worse Stuff to Talk About.

I believe the Russian Uranium Clinton Thing story was broken by the New York Times in 2015, in a story headlined Cash Flowed to Clinton Foundation Amid Russian Uranium Deal.

At the heart of the tale are several men, leaders of the Canadian mining industry, who have been major donors to the charitable endeavors of former President Bill Clinton and his family. Members of that group built, financed and eventually sold off to the Russians a company that would become known as Uranium One.

Beyond mines in Kazakhstan that are among the most lucrative in the world, the sale gave the Russians control of one-fifth of all uranium production capacity in the United States. Since uranium is considered a strategic asset, with implications for national security, the deal had to be approved by a committee composed of representatives from a number of United States government agencies. Among the agencies that eventually signed off was the State Department, then headed by Mr. Clinton’s wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton.

As the Russians gradually assumed control of Uranium One in three separate transactions from 2009 to 2013, Canadian records show, a flow of cash made its way to the Clinton Foundation. Uranium One’s chairman used his family foundation to make four donations totaling $2.35 million. Those contributions were not publicly disclosed by the Clintons, despite an agreement Mrs. Clinton had struck with the Obama White House to publicly identify all donors. Other people with ties to the company made donations as well.

And shortly after the Russians announced their intention to acquire a majority stake in Uranium One, Mr. Clinton received $500,000 for a Moscow speech from a Russian investment bank with links to the Kremlin that was promoting Uranium One stock.

At the time, both Rosatom [the Russian atomic energy agency] and the United States government made promises intended to ease concerns about ceding control of the company’s assets to the Russians. Those promises have been repeatedly broken, records show.

So there’s a big, fat appearance of naughty here. On top of that, it has been reported more recently that back in 2010, when the Thing was going on, Russians and uranium were being investigated by the FBI. The Hill reported this week:

Before the Obama administration approved a controversial deal in 2010 giving Moscow control of a large swath of American uranium, 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, according to government documents and interviews.

Federal agents used a confidential U.S. witness working inside the Russian nuclear industry to gather extensive financial records, make secret recordings and intercept emails as early as 2009 that showed Moscow had compromised an American uranium trucking firm with bribes and kickbacks in violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, FBI and court documents show.

They 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, sources told The Hill.

That looks corrupt as hell, as maybe it is. You might remember I’m not a Hillary Clinton fan. However, as Callum Borchers reported at WaPo this week, there are mitigating circumstances. The “government body” that approved the sale was made up of representatives from the State Department and eight other U.S. government agencies. Clinton did not have the authority to approve the sale by herself. Further, Borchers writes, it appears the committee members did not know anything about the FBI investigation when the sale was approved. See also Snopes.

And what about the donations?

It is virtually impossible to view these donations as anything other than an attempt to curry favor with Clinton. Donations alone do not, however, prove that Clinton was actually influenced by money to vote in favor of the Uranium One sale — or to overlook the FBI investigation. Again, there is no evidence that she even knew about the investigation.

Further, as Vox reports, there’s no indication that Clinton went out of her way to advocate for the sale of the uranium.

I am reminded of something written last year by my friend Jeffrey Feldman, that Clinton is less guilty of corruption than of clientelism.

“Corruption” is essentially a quid-pro-quo system. In the most basic example, a person walks into a politicians office and gives them an envelope full of money–throws it on the desk. As the delivery man walks out of the office, he turns to the Congressperson and says, “Vote no on the housing bill.”  That’s the stereotype of corruption in government. I give you money, you do what I tell you to do.

“Clientelism” is a bit different because it is a system whereby patrons and clients act in ways that are mutually beneficial to both–without the explicit quid pro quo, without the smudged brown envelope of sweaty cash.  The big difference between corruption and clientelism is the explicit demand for a political act from the person or entity who wants to influence government. In “corruption” you are paid and then you do what you are asked. In clientism, the politician acts in favor of a powerful interest or entity and then, subsequently, is rewarded.

Put another way — without agreeing to a specific quid pro quo, which would be illegal, the Clintons and a lot of other big players in the world operate in a system in which they are perpetually doing each other mutually beneficially favors without ever being so crass as to admit out loud that’s what they are doing, and without ever specifically agreeing to terms of the favors. Very likely the Russians never directly approached Clinton for her favorable vote, and Clinton never asked for donations. It’s just How Things Are Done.  That doesn’t mean it’s not a corruption of the system, but it’s probably not indictable. Jeffrey continued,

Secretary Clinton, for all the good work that she has done, has built a career on the belief that she can control these patron-client relationships to benefit the powerless. Yet, she has done so by entering into reciprocal relationships with the powerful–who gain no advantage by legislation that helps the powerless.

This is a big reason I don’t want her in office, and I don’t want her associates running the Democratic Party. It it turns out she did do something indictable, I’m not going to shed tears over it. But this has nothing whatsoever to do with the Trump-Russian Collusion Thing, which is a different thing.

Rather hilariously, Trump and Fox News are screaming that “fake media” have refused to cover the Russian Uranium Clinton Thing, even though the New York Times broke the story more than two years ago, and other major news outlets have been reporting on it this week. To see the spin right-wing media are giving the story, see the New York Post.

7 thoughts on “The Russian Uranium Clinton Thing: A Primer

  1. Ol’ F. Scott Fitzgerald was right when he wrote that ‘the rich are very different than you and I’ – and maybe he should have added, ‘and the powerful, too.’

    t-RUMPLE-THIN-sKKKin LOOOOOOOOOOVES him some quid pro quo – as long as he’s on the receiving end!

  2. The object of the New York Post article is to taint Mueller as being in Hillary’s pocket. They just made a causal reference to Mueller in the final paragraph so that the wingnuts will think they’ve uncovered some profound connection. Sorta like when we place Easter eggs throughout the yard on Easter for our grandchildren to find. To us adults they are obviously placed to be easily discovered, but to the undeveloped mind of a child it gives the immeasurable thrill of discovery.
    Even if the wingnuts don’t fully understand exactly what they’ve discovered with the knowledge that Mueller was Director of the FBI when all this corruption transpired, they still come away with an abiding sense that Hillary is guilty and Mueller is complicit.
    I’m guilty of falling for the same biased conditioning myself. So I shouldn’t point fingers. In spite of all evidence that vindicated Clarence Thomas of alleged sexual harassment. I still believe Anita Hill was telling the truth. Just something in my maleness that tells me Clarence wanted a taste of the forbidden fruit.

  3. What a batch of Bullshit.  Pure and unadulterated.  The Reich Wing has ceded any claim on any moral high road.  The road of influence peddling and bought and paid for politicians is littered with their toll booths, gaudy road signs, litter, and views of environmental carnage.  The poster child of immorality they helped empower has stained them as a corrupt organization.  Even main line conservatives are disenfranchised and  sport tread marks from their busses. To attempt to cover your misdeeds and evils with finger pointing and accusations is an old trick.  It is a juvenile and bullshit one and should be called one.

    The Reich wing has plenty of moral problems to deal with in their own domain.  Let them show they have the moral status to throw stones by cleaning up their own sordid messes.  As they have made for themselves a reputation of truth bending, lying  and fact fabrication along with logic distortion, illusion, and collaboration with every demon foreign and domestic they can find.  The generate conspiracy theories by the score, and prey on the weak minded to proselytize them for nothing but a tribal sense of belonging to a tiki torch bearing batch of misfits. The moral high road has no lane for these vermin.

  4. “Rather hilariously, Trump and Fox News are screaming that “fake media” have refused to cover the Russian Uranium Clinton Thing, even though the New York Times broke the story more than two years ago, and other major news outlets have been reporting on it this week”

    Other than the once a week clientelism that happens with most Americans (going to church, receiving the “gospel” from charlatans and, in return, “donating”) I really have a problem seeing any intellectual activity from the typical American voter.

  5. Thanks for checking this out so I didn’t have to! (though I hadn’t even heard of this particular mess). And extra Thx for the Jeffrey Feldman link, where I found this “money” quote:

    “Goldman Sachs does not want to knock down a few key votes on financial regulation–although it will find ways to do that if necessary. Rather, Goldman wants to control the universe of common sense that determines which questions get admitted to the overall debate on financial regulation and which questions get dismissed as fools-errands, impossible, or hucksterism.”

    That’s how the most effective propaganda works – setting the FRAME of the debate, the “universe of common sense” which dismisses other ideas as “not serious”. Republicans have been winning that battle for decades. Bernie is the first national politician to make a dent in that since… uh, when???

  6. Herm. I dunno. I’m not saying that you *should* trust that Clinton wouldn’t favor some of her buddies – that clienteleism isn’t an issue.

    It’s just – I remember the news story that someone who donated big to the Clinton Foundation was able to *TALK*, *DIRECTLY* to Human Abedin, and ASK FOR A FAVOR. And it got rejected.

    In the 80s and 90s, I remembered a meme going around, a business-style statement of “sure, I support X_Politician, I give generous campaign donations. And why? Does X_Politician vote the way I tell them to? OF COURSE NOT! But when I call them with a concern, they by-golly listen to me.”

    And by that standard, “a generous donor to a life-saving foundation gets to talk to the assistant of Hillary Clinton to request a favor” is, well, nothing. Meaningless.

    Somewhere between “he got to talk to Huma Abedin” and “he got the passports he requested, even though the reasoning for giving them was poor” is a proper level of engagement. (“Between” – as in, talking to her wasn’t *even* nothing. But getting the passports for poor reasons would definitely have been wrong.)

    Which, again, doesn’t mean “trust Hillary Clinton with your heart and soul, or even an important position running your country.” But a flashback to Doonesbury, (I believe it was) Rick Redfern interviewing GOP people about how horrible it was that the Clintons sometimes let big donors sleep in the Lincoln bedroom. The punchline (paraphrased from memory):

    “Heck, *we* let *our* big donors write the regulations for their own industries!”
    “Ah, so your statement is that they get a better deal from you…”

    Do I *like* that the Clintons have rich and powerful friends, who would probably see favored treatment if Hillary Clinton was in the White House? Of course not. But I’m also leery of tearing down people for literal, objective, pecadillos when there’s rampant corruption on the Republican side:
    1) industries writing their own regulation
    2) industry insiders using their discretion to kill regulations
    3) clear patronage, like a Trump donor getting a 300 million dollar contract
    4) Misuse of congressional investigations for political purposes
    5) Misuse of law enforcement threats for political purposes
    6) Proof of 4, and 5, by sweeping larger issues under the rug
    …and so on.

    I mean, it’s really bad if a Clinton friend could score a major contract. It’s kinda bad (but how can you fix it?) if a Clinton friend has a huge advantage in scoring a major contract, because they know what the Clintons like to see, and write their proposal in line with that. It’s a bit questionable if they get a phone call so they’re aware that they could submit a proposal… no one else gets a phone call, but maybe they’d have called *all* of their friends, not any one in particular, who they knew could handle the job.

    I’m not saying those things should be ignored. But that can lead to lefties straining at the fly in the glass labeled “Democratic” while ignoring the elephant trying to have relations with the camel in the glass labeled “Republican”.

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