Why the Uranium One deal still matters, despite what Joy Reid thinks

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source:  NuQum.com, October 27, 2017)

{Feel free to send any comments about this essay to: kkroeger@nuqum.com or kentkroeger3@gmail.com}

It was one of the busier slides in a grievously long student presentation on nuclear proliferation at the National Defense Intelligence College (NDIC) in 2009.

Buried in a slide explaining the nation’s sources of strategic minerals, such as uranium, was an indented bullet point about the pending acquisition of the controlling stake in a Canadian-based mining company (Uranium One) by a Russian entity (Rosatom).

The significance of the bullet point missed most of us in the class until the professor noted that this acquisition, if approved by the Committee on Foreign Investments in the U.S. (CFIUS), would give the Russians mining rights to a significant percentage of U.S. uranium deposits.

It was a WTF!? moment for me. Can the Russians really do that?

“Yes, they can,” the professor said. “It’s called an open economy.”

The professor then told us, under federal law, the CFIUS reviews any foreign investments in the U.S. with possible national security concerns. Uranium would quality in that regard.

The professor, a retired intelligence officer, was memorable in how he would lean back in his chair and start caressing his temples anytime he had a problem with some aspect of U.S. national security policy — which was most of the time. The International Traffic in Arms Regulations (known as ITAR) were a particular sore spot with him.

As to the pending Uranium One sale, he told us: “The committee (CFIUS) can approve acquisitions, but only the President can disapprove of them.”

“Will they approve of this sale?” someone asked the professor.

“I don’t know why they wouldn’t,” he responded, without any temple rubbing. In his view, access to uranium ore is not a substantive barrier to nefarious entities wanting to build nuclear weapons.

The student moved on in her presentation and I wouldn’t think about Canadian mining companies or uranium mining rights for another seven years.

Until the 2016 presidential election. And, even then, the controversy of whether former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had greased the skids to get the Uranium One deal approved, in exchange for past generosity to the Clinton Foundation, was buried under the coverage of her “email problem.”

However, the recent story by The Hill that the FBI was investigating Russian spy activities and possible bribery surrounding the Uranium One deal returned my thoughts to that NDIC class on nuclear proliferation eight years ago.

Many of the details from that class have faded from my memory, but some of the general ideas remain, such as:

  • Conceptually, it is not hard to build a simple, fission bomb. On a practical level, however, it still requires nation-state-level resources and commitments.
  • There are intelligence officers in the U.S. intelligence community (USIC) that ALL they think about is nuclear proliferation: What countries have fully developed nuclear weapons? What countries quickly could, if the need arose? What countries control any of the constituent parts and knowledge bases required to make nuclear weapons?
  • This country puts forth a considerable effort to track the intermediary and constituent parts needed to build nuclear weapons, including: raw uranium ore, weapons-grade fissile material, timing devices and detonators, centrifuges, advanced milling machines and metalworking, etc.
  • No detail is too small for intelligence officers to track if it relates to the proliferation of nuclear materials and technologies across the globe. They care about who controls the world’s uranium ore. And there is a zero chance they would stay silent if the Secretary of State (or President) fast tracks the sale of a uranium mining company to the Russians if, collectively, they believed the sale was a threat to national security. A zero chance.

As the most recent headlines emerged concerning the Uranium One deal, I couldn’t help but think about that class. How the professor seemed nonplussed by the idea of the Russians controlling up to 20 percent of U.S. uranium mining still resonates with me.

Fox News’ narrative is seductive — that something inappropriate, at odds with this nation’s security, was involved in the Uranium One deal. That somehow Hillary Clinton was repaying a debt when she made no effort to stop the acquisition of Uranium One by the Russians.

Yet, I have no evidence to suggest the intelligence community, or anyone with a non-partisan perspective, viewed the acquisition of Uranium One by the Russians as a threat to national security.

So when the Hillary Clinton says on CSPAN that the “pay for play” accusation with respect to the Uranium One deal has been debunked, I have no reason to doubt her…

…but I still have a problem with Hillary’s connection to the Uranium One deal.

Why? Because I believe the type of structural corruption the Clinton’s have exploited since they left the White House is exemplified by the Uranium One deal. This deal was right in their soft corruption wheelhouse.

My graduate school mentor always asked his students to start any social inquiry at the most general level. “Don’t get buried in the details,” he would say.  “Nuance and details are likely to deceive rather than inform.”

What is the 30,000-foot view of Bill and Hillary Clinton?

Since leaving the White House, the Clinton’s have amassed one-quarter billion dollars in net worth. How? By selling their access to power.

It’s not complicated and, worse yet, its not illegal.

Generally, it is legal to offer a service where your access to power elites can benefit others who want access and favorable decisions from those power elites. That is called special interest lobbying. You have to register with the U.S. government to do that on an international level, which is why Paul Manafort will be spending a lot of time in front of a judge over the next year.

The Clintons, of course, have no need for the special interest lobbying model. Too plebeian. Its beneath their status. Instead, they have created a hybrid approach through their intermingling of genuine humanitarian efforts with private, corporate interests. For this effort, the Clintons profit both directly (speaking fees and campaign donations) and indirectly (the Clinton Foundation).

Access to power is what the Clinton’s peddle and that is why they may retire as near billionaires once all is said and done.

However, the fact that this is legal doesn’t make it ethical. And even though Bill Clinton has made positive contributions to the world since his presidency, it doesn’t justify the methods he has used to enrich himself (and his family) since leaving office.

This truth gets lost in MSNBC host Joy Reid’s self-serving setup of a conservative journalist who didn’t understand the real meaning of the Uranium One deal. The Clinton’s are not in the quid pro quo business. Amateurs are in the quid pro quo business. The Clinton’s are in the access selling business, at a level only ex-presidents, some U.S. cabinet members, and a few former U.S. Senators can realistically claim.

You will never find an audio recording or an email where Bill or Hillary Clinton communicate, “If you give to our Foundation X number of dollars, we will  make sure Y happens.”

That is quid pro quo for dumbkopfs. That is what Paul Manafort might have engaged in, but that is not what the Clinton’s do. They aren’t so pedestrian.

Rather, this is the deal the Clinton’s have sold the world’s elites since 2000: I am Bill Clinton, a former U.S president married to a U.S. Senator and future U.S. president. Give to our family foundation and we will learn about your interests and give you access to any world leader you require to fulfill those interests.

That is the Bill and Hillary Clinton business model. It is an awesome and lucrative model. It is the model Barack Obama is poised to employ and modify over the remainder of his post-presidency. Obama will die a billionaire if our nation’s laws don’t try to address this form of soft corruption.

If you are OK with that, than the Uranium One deal really is a nothin’ burger. If, on the other hand, you have a problem with a former U.S. President and U.S. Secretary of State engaging in that type of influence peddling, then the Clinton’s are the exemplar.

For all intents and purposes, Uranium One deal is business-as-usual for the Clintons

There is a reason politicians rarely go to jail. Lawyers understand how difficult it is to prove criminal intent (mens rea). It is their ‘get out of jail free’ card and they are not embarrassed to use it.

Former FBI Director James Comey’s decision not to indict Hillary Clinton for the mishandling of classified information was largely rooted in the knowledge that proving Clinton’s general intent — the lowest level of criminal intent — would be difficult. Nay, impossible.

The most direct evidence of general intent is a defendant’s confession, which prosecutors cannot force from a defendant given their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. Or sometimes general intent is discerned through a wiretapped conversation.

Without concrete evidence of general intent, much less specific criminal intent, the Uranium One deal is a dead-end for Clintons’ critics. And the smart critics know it.

Besides, that is not how modern influence peddling works…not the way it is practiced by the Clintons.

The Uranium One deal was not about U.S. mining rights

James Conca, a geologist writing for Forbes magazine, offers a lucid summary and explanation of why the Uranium One deal is not going to yield any serious criminal investigation.

“Those U.S. facilities obtained by Russia produce almost nothing, ” writes Conca. “The uranium deposits are of relatively poor grade and are too costly to compete on the uranium market, but the facilities do have good milling capacity to process ore, if anyone gives it to them, which hasn’t happened in about 10 years.”

Conca lays bare any suggestion that national security was at stake with the Russians purchasing control of Uranium One. “The real reason Russia wanted this deal was to give Rosatom’s subsidiary Uranium One’s very profitable uranium mines in Kazakhstan ― the single largest producer of commercial uranium in the world,” writes Conca. [Rosatom is Russia’s state atomic energy corporation and is the world’s largest uranium enrichment leader.]

National security aside, the suggestion that Canadian businessman Frank Giustra’s $140 million in donations to the Clinton Foundation was related to CFIUS’s approval of the Uranium One deal is equally specious. As emphasized in MSNBC host Joy Reid’s take down of Washington Examiner reporter Jen Kerns, Guistra had divested himself from Uranium One three years prior to the sale to Rosatom. Though, Reid fails to mention Ian Telfer, another Uranium One investor, who donated $1.3 million to $5.6 million to the Clinton Foundation during and after the CFIUS review.

Five million dollars is not as eye-popping as $140 million, but nonetheless invites suggestions that more was going on between the Clintons and Uranium One than just a lot of good intentions.

Also feeding the conservative media’s feeding frenzy on the Uranium One deal is Bill Clinton’s $500,000 speaking honorarium in 2010 from a Russian bank connected to the Uranium One deal. However, given there will never be an email or recorded phone conversation where Bill Clinton says, “You pay me $500,000 and I will make sure you get CFIUS to approve your Uranium One acquisition,” any suggestion of wrongdoing on Bill’s part is purely speculative and nowhere close to an indictable offense.

Those types of emails or phone calls will never be uncovered, not just because the Clinton’s understand the legal concept of criminal intent, but because that is not how their influence peddling operation works.

It is far more sophisticated and, yet, still simple.

The Clintons’ activities are filled with interpersonal relationships that feed conspiracy theories the guileless conservative media inevitably promote as the next ‘greatest scandal in American history,’ only for the Clinton-friendly mainstream media to, on cue, easily knock it down like the green pigs in an Angry Birds game app.

No, the Clinton influence peddling model is far more subtle.

The Clintons are a symbiotic dream team. One is a former U.S. president and the other is (was) a future U.S. president. They have a charitable foundation that does good work throughout the world. This foundation offers to its major donors this obvious benefit: high-ideal, visible philanthropy. In Frank Giustra’s own words: “I admire what he (Bill Clinton) does and I want to be a part of it.”

But, this is where it gets murky, and deliberately so. The Washington Post reported that a Canadian charity, founded by Giustra in 2007, kept its donors secret, despite an agreement between the Obama administration and Hillary Clinton that the Clinton Foundation would reveal its donors.

Hillary Clinton never intended to honor her agreement with the Obama administration, whose malignant indifference to Hillary’s side businesses would define their reaction to Hillary’s “reckless” mishandling of classified information and destruction of government records as Secretary of State.

The Clinton Foundation’s connection to Giustra’s Canadian foundation allowed anonymous donors, “including foreign executives with business pending before the Hillary Clinton-led State Department,” to funnel money to the Clinton Foundation.

And, boy, did they.

Over 1,000 donors to Giustra’s charitable foundation are tied to the Clinton Foundation and remain unknown to the public, according to The Washington Post.

Anyone concerned about the integrity of charitable foundations should be outraged at the lack of transparency provided by the Clinton Foundation.

Is it at a criminal level? Unknown. Is it unethical? Absolutely.

According to The Washington Post, “Bill Clinton has used Giustra’s MD-87 luxury plane 26 times for foundation business since 2005, including 13 trips in which the two men traveled together.” The Clinton Foundation does not reveal Bill Clinton’s travel behavior, including modes of transportation or travel companions.

More importantly, Giustra’s private business activities benefited directly from his connections to Bill Clinton.

To business titans like Giustra, international philanthropy enhances both his reputation and bottom line. By coincidence or intent, Giustra entered into some of his biggest deals of his business career in the same countries where he traveled with Bill Clinton for philanthropic purposes.

That is the Clinton business model exemplified.

For example, at the same time he was dining with Bill Clinton in Kazakhstan, Giustra concluded a massive purchase of uranium mines in the same country. Coincidence? That is what Bill Clinton, Frank Giustra and Joy Reid want you to believe.

Kazakhstan president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, became Kazakhstan’s first elected president in 1991 with 99 percent of the vote. By any sensible definition, Nazarbayev is a dictator and has been accused of significant human rights abuses by various human rights organizations and the United Nations.

Is there evidence Bill Clinton personally intervened in Giustra’s negotiations with Nazarbayev? None, but again, that is the hallmark of the Clinton business model. It doesn’t require Bill’s personal negotiation skills. It only requires his personal connections. Whether Giustra has the skill to negotiate with Nazarbayev is Giustra’s problem.

When Giustra formed a Colombian oil company it received important drilling rights from Colombia’s state-owned oil company, Ecopetrol. When did this happen? After Giustra met the Colombian president through his affiliation to the Clinton Foundation.

Again, coincidence? Giustra insists the approval of the Colombian government was not required for his company’s Colombian drilling rights. We have to take his word for it, but forgive those that have doubts.

But, once more, this timeline regurgitation confuses the real power the Clinton’s offer global elites. Bill Clinton (and his wife) aren’t about the negotiation details. They are about facilitation and the mutual understanding that comes with being part of the world’s economic and political elite.

If you give to the Clinton Foundation, Bill and Hillary will know everything they need to know about your private business interests. You don’t need to ask them for help. If you give them (or rather, their foundation) enough money, they will learn what they need to know about your private business interests and how they can help.

It is a nice business model if you are an ex-U.S. president (or married to one). And it is all legal.


About the author:  Kent Kroeger is a writer and statistical consultant with over 30 -years experience measuring and analyzing public opinion for public and private sector clients. He also spent ten years working for the U.S. Department of Defense’s Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness and the Defense Intelligence Agency. He holds a B.S. degree in Journalism/Political Science from The University of Iowa, and an M.A. in Quantitative Methods from Columbia University (New York, NY).  He lives in Ewing, New Jersey with his wife and son.