Analysis: As Liberals Cheer Shepard Smith's Fact Check, is 'Uranium One' a Real Story, or Not?

Posted: Nov 15, 2017 1:05 PM

Liberals online are giddily sharing a segment that aired on Fox News yesterday afternoon, in which anchor Shepard Smith addresses the 'Uranium One' deal that many conservatives have cited as evidence of "collusion" between the Russian government and the Clintons.  One blogger from the left-wing attack site Media Matters cheers on Smith for 'annihilating' the anti-Clinton storyline that characterized some of the story's coverage elsewhere on the network.  A liberal journalism professor also tweeted out the video, applauding Smith for 'shaming' Fox News by exposing the controversy as a "nothing" story.  Watch:

This is strong, concise journalism by Smith, who helps knock down a number of the misconceptions about the Uranium One deal.  I think some conservatives have been lazy in their understanding and framing of the issue, allowing embellishments and exaggerations to proliferate.  For instance, the general notion is widely shared in certain quarters that Hillary Clinton personally green-lit the deal, which lined the pockets of rich Clinton Foundation donors -- while selling out US national security by shipping our uranium to the Russians.  The truth is much more nuanced and complicated than that, major elements of which Smith explains in the clip.  A few additional points:

(1) Smith notes that questions about the Uranium One deal were first seriously raised by Peter Schweizer, whom he identifies as a Breitbart editor.  Someone's professional connection to that website can be discrediting in many circles, but it's worth pointing out that Schweizer's investigative journalism in Clinton Cash was seen as credible by mainstream media outlets like the New York Times and Washington Post, which forged formal agreements to access and build off of his research.

(2) The New York Times published a major piece about the Uranium One deal in 2015, noting that it helped fulfill Vladimir Putin's goal of amassing more control over the global uranium supply.  The key excerpt from that story:

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 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 a big element of this story -- which played out over five years, during which time key players in the transaction poured lots of money into the Clintons' personal and "charitable" bank accounts -- is the non-disclosure of interested donors, as was required.  Smith mentions this in his monologue.  Also at issue were the "repeatedly broken" pledges meant to mitigate national security concerns about Russia's acquisition of significant American uranium interests.  And yes, it's a fact that one of several agencies that ultimately had to sign off on the agreement was the State Department, which was headed at the time by Hillary Clinton.  She was not the sole approver of the deal, nor could she have single-handedly stopped it from going through; also, it's unclear how personally involved she was in the process (given her track record, it's reasonable to treat denials from her and her underlings with great skepticism).  Regardless, her agency's thumbs-up did help pave the way for the plan to become reality.

(3) The biggest piece of the Clinton puzzle as it relates to Uranium One is Bill Clinton, and the gobs of money he hauled in from interested parties over the years -- in exchange for the extraordinary access and political legitimatization that accompanies the blessing of a former US president.  Back to the Times story:

The path to a Russian acquisition of American uranium deposits began in 2005 in Kazakhstan, where the Canadian mining financier Frank Giustra orchestrated his first big uranium deal, with Mr. Clinton at his side. The two men had flown aboard Mr. Giustra’s private jet to Almaty, Kazakhstan, where they dined with the authoritarian president, Nursultan A. Nazarbayev. Mr. Clinton handed the Kazakh president a propaganda coup when he expressed support for Mr. Nazarbayev’s bid to head an international elections monitoring group, undercutting American foreign policy and criticism of Kazakhstan’s poor human rights record by, among others, his wife, then a senator. Within days of the visit, Mr. Giustra’s fledgling company, UrAsia Energy Ltd., signed a preliminary deal giving it stakes in three uranium mines controlled by the state-run uranium agency Kazatomprom.

If the Kazakh deal was a major victory, UrAsia did not wait long before resuming the hunt. In 2007, it merged with Uranium One, a South African company with assets in Africa and Australia, in what was described as a $3.5 billion transaction. The new company, which kept the Uranium One name, was controlled by UrAsia investors including Ian Telfer, a Canadian who became chairman. Through a spokeswoman, Mr. Giustra, whose personal stake in the deal was estimated at about $45 million, said he sold his stake in 2007. Soon, Uranium One began to snap up companies with assets in the United States...several months [after the fruitful 2005 trip], Mr. Giustra had donated $31.3 million to Mr. Clinton’s foundation.

At a later stage in this process, a crucial Uranium One business deal was in serious jeopardy; the company asked the US State Department to intervene on its behalf, as a means of reassuring the government of Kazakhstan. "What the company needed, [a Uranium One official] said, was official written confirmation that the licenses were valid," the Times reported.  "The American Embassy ultimately reported to the secretary of state, Mrs. Clinton. Though the cable was copied to her, it was given wide circulation, and it is unclear if she would have read it...What is clear is that the embassy acted, with the cables showing that the energy officer met with Kazakh officials to discuss the issue on June 10 and 11."  Three days later, the endangered deal went through.

The Times separately reported that Bill Clinton lied about a related meeting he hosted at his home with Kazakh officials in 2008, only telling the truth when he was informed that there was photographic evidence of the event.  Recent revelations that the FBI had investigated how "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" reignited this issue, and refocused attention on Russia's efforts to influence US power-brokers and policy.  The Clintons were central to that story.

(4) Smith accurately tells viewers that the Uranium One deal "stipulated that no uranium produced may be exported."  He added that without special permission, the company was required to sell "the uranium that it mines in the United States to civilian power reactors in the United States." These are important facts, but the top concern wasn't that the US would export its uranium to Russia, or that Russia would gain an upper hand on nuclear weapons.  According to the Times, "the national security issue at stake in the Uranium One deal was not primarily about nuclear weapons proliferation...Instead, it concerned American dependence on foreign uranium sources. While the United States gets one-fifth of its electrical power from nuclear plants, it produces only around 20 percent of the uranium it needs, and most plants have only 18 to 36 months of reserves."  The story quotes Republican Senator John Barrasso expressing the worry that the agreement “would give the Russian government control over a sizable portion of America’s uranium production capacity.”  And so it did.

In summary, Smith's segment clarified some important details about Uranium One that have too often been lost, overlooked, or intentionally ignored in the partisan shuffle.  Facts and truth ought to matter, and conservatives shouldn't cut corners or make things up in order to deflect from unhelpful Russia-related issues in an effort to implicate "the other side" (though there are certainly some questions that Democrats and the Left should answer on that front).  It's understandable why liberals would high-five each other over Smith's report, but by pretending that Uranium One was an above-board, total non-issue for the Clintons all along, they're making the same mistake some on the Right have made by mischaracterizing the string of transactions.  The facts suggest that one side has blown the process leading up to Uranium One deal's approval out of proportion, while the other side has dismissed it entirely as a phony scandal (a reflexive impulse).  Echo chambers are powerful vortexes.  

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