It's the DC topic that won't go away: Uranium One. President Trump sees it as a Watergate-level scandal involving Hillary Clinton, while those who disagree—now notably including Shepard Smith of Fox News—think Trump and Republicans are wildly distorting the facts. The controversy came up again Tuesday when GOP lawmakers pressed Attorney General Jeff Sessions on why he hasn't appointed a special prosecutor to investigate. A "factual basis" is required, he responded, suggesting it does not currently exist. Some background and developments:
- Uranium One: It's a mining company headquartered in Canada that's one of the world's biggest producers of uranium and owns mining rights in the US. In 2010, the Russian state nuclear agency, Rosatom, bought a controlling interest. At the time, this involved an estimated 20% of US uranium, though the figure is now about 10%, per the Christian Science Monitor.
- The accusation: Trump and Clinton's critics say that key players in the deal gave $145 million to the Clinton Foundation, and that she then approved Rosatom's purchase of the Canadian company as secretary of state. Trump has called it "the biggest story that Fake Media doesn't want to follow," and Sean Hannity has been pushing it hard on Fox News.
- The pushback: On Tuesday, Hannity's Fox counterpart, Shep Smith, departed from the network's coverage of the story, calling Trump's accusations "inaccurate." For one thing, the sale was approved by the heads of nine departments, State being one of them, and it's not clear Clinton played any role. "The Clinton State Department had no power to veto or approve that transaction," says Smith. See his full takedown here, for which he's taking much flak from Fox viewers, notes the Washington Post.
- The source: The quid-pro-quo allegations were raised by Peter Schweizer, a senior editor-at-large of Breitbart News, in his 2015 book Clinton Cash. His reporting provided the basis for a subsequent story about the connections between Uranium One and the Clinton Foundation donors in the New York Times that year, with lines like this: "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."
- The FBI: The Hill caused a fuss with a story in October reporting that, before the Obama administration approved the deal, the FBI was investigating Kremlin "bribery, kickbacks, extortion, and money laundering designed to grow Vladimir Putin's atomic energy business inside the United States."
- The money: Fox's Smith disputes a key part about the $145 million in donations to the Clinton Foundation. About $130 million of that amount came from the founder of Uranium One, Frank Giustra, and Giustra sold his stake in 2007, three years before the Rosatom deal, per Smith.
- What next? Two House committees are now conducting their own investigations, and Republicans want the attorney general to appoint a special counsel. Among them are Sen. Chuck Grassley and Rep. Bob Goodlatte, who chair their chambers' panels that oversee the Justice Department, per the New York Times.
- Fact-checkers: The website FactCheck.org has a a primer on what is known and unknown about all of this. For now: "There is no evidence that donations to the Clinton Foundation from people with ties to Uranium One or Bill Clinton's speaking fee influenced Hillary Clinton's official actions." It also notes that her State Department was just one of nine represented on the panel that unanimously approved the deal, the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States. PolitiFact, in its own lengthy look, also sees no evidence of a quid pro quo involving Clinton. It adds: "Because the details of the story are murky and based in part on anonymous sources, we won't put any claims to the Truth-O-Meter."
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