The FBI has been in the news a lot lately, mostly over the activities it will and will not be performing in an additional, week-long background check on Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. (That’s Background Check #7 for those keeping track.) Not that there is corroboration for any of the allegations against him, but thanks to Sen. Jeff Flake, we’ve had to extend this national nightmare until the alarm clock goes off on Friday to wake us up. Senate Democrats are going to keep trying to hit the snooze alarm, but that can’t be allowed to happen. This bad dream needs to be over, and Kavanaugh needs to be seated on the Court. Sen. Lindsay Graham is right --- this outright destruction of the confirmation process by Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee is the worst threat to our system of government that we’ve ever witnessed.
Most everyone has expressed confidence in the FBI’s ability to do a good, time-efficient background check that’s untainted by political motivation, since most of the “bad apples” at the top are gone now and the vast majority of agents are assumed to be above-board. But it’s hard to say; the FBI is a long way from fully redeeming itself in the eyes of those who now have good reason to distrust it. The Bureau may do a very professional, unbiased job of checking out the decades-old claims against Kavanaugh, but it should be noted that the same old problems are occurring when it comes to obtaining FBI documents through the Freedom Of Information Act. I refer specifically to one case that hasn’t been in the news much lately –- which is understandable at a time when our constitutional protections of presumed innocence and due process face existential threat –- but that mustn’t be forgotten: Uranium One.
According to investigative reporter John Solomon, the FBI has identified 37 pages of documents that might reveal what the Obama administration, including then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and others, were told concerning criminal wrongdoing inside Russia’s nuclear industry. This came eight years after an undercover informant discovered it.
But don’t bother asking to see them. They’re –- you guessed it –- still classified. The reasons to keep them locked in a titanium vault three miles below the surface of the Earth are very much like the fake excuses they used to hide thousands of catty, politically-charged Strzok-Page text messages and other potentially embarrassing or even incriminating documents: protecting national security, safeguarding law enforcement techniques, making sure the various agencies can communicate with each other, and (try not to laugh) ensuring individual Americans’ right to privacy.
According to Solomon, the Bureau did release a handful of documents, but these are certainly nothing to get excited about. The documents they released consist of --- I am not kidding --- the already-public letters that members of Congress had sent them demanding answers concerning Uranium One. Other than that “non-disclosure disclosure,” the list of withheld documents was posted inside its FOIA online vault under the name “Uranium One Transaction,” with its determination that, in effect, those people waiting for them could go pound sand. (One does have to wonder if someone might have deliberately posted it there to rile up those who had requested the information and incite them to press the issue. That’s one theory, anyway.)
Recall that we learned through his lawyer, Victoria Toensing, that in 2009, informant William Douglas Campbell risked his life and managed to penetrate Rosatom, the Russian nuclear conglomerate cherished by Vladimir Putin, by posing as a consultant. (Solomon is a great source for information about this because he broke the story about a year ago.) By early 2010, he had uncovered a serious national security threat in the form of a racketeering game of kickbacks, bribes and extortion that involved the primary uranium trucking company in the United States.
This was the time when Secretary of State Clinton was courting Russia to “reset” relations, her husband Bill was given (bribed?) half a million dollars to fly over and make a speech in Moscow, and Rosatom was getting approval to buy a mining company called Uranium One. This effectively gave Russia control of an estimated 20 percent of our untapped uranium deposits.
The top executive of Rosatom in the United States was eventually charged and convicted, along with some American officials. But this took years, so no one really knew that the Obama FBI was finding out about the corruption within Rosatom as early as 2009. The sale of Uranium One had required permission from the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), which was chaired by none other than (drum roll, please...) Hillary Clinton. CFIUS approved the sale in 2010.
There’s something really disturbing about this timeline. We can tell from it that one of two things has to be true: 1) The Obama administration knew this Russian company was corrupt and had endangered our national security but for some unfathomable reason approved the sale anyway, or 2) The Obama FBI knew about Rosatom’s corruption but for some unfathomable reason didn’t inform administration officials. Either possibility looks incredibly bad.
Robert Mueller was director of the FBI at that time. William Douglas Campbell told Solomon that his FBI handlers said they’d informed Mueller and Obama of the corruption within Putin’s favorite nuclear conglomerate –- even that it was included in the President’s daily briefing (do they ever un-classify those?) –- and that they suspected “politics” as the reason the sale went through.
Ten months ago, Campbell was questioned by the FBI, but nothing from that interview has been made public. The Uranium One case is supposedly being investigated now by the U.S. attorney in Utah, John Huber. Let’s hope he’s managed to get his hands on all the documents we’re not allowed to see. Considering how leaky the FBI has been in the past few years, it’s almost unbelievable what a tight ship Huber’s office is. Either they’ve plugged any possible leaks, or they’re just not getting much done that’s leak-worthy. Let’s hope it’s the former.
Solomon has spoken with another U.S. official who had access to all the evidence seen by CFIUS before approving the Uranium One sale. “There is definitely material that would be illuminating to the issues that have been raised,” this person said. “Somebody should fight to make it public.”
Okay, Republicans in Congress. Hear that? This is your opportunity to help expose the inconsistencies and outright failures of the FBI regarding the Russia probes. In other words, while the Senate is busy investigating high school yearbooks and keg parties and alleged adolescent fumblings in the dark, bringing the Supreme Court confirmation process to a shameful low, you should bring renewed focus to this serious lapse, Uranium One. There are certainly ties here to the current “Trump/Russia” probe, as special counsel Mueller was head of the FBI at the time this REAL “Russia” scandal was being perpetrated. It’s time to call loudly for the FBI to declassify.
Or, here’s an idea: President Trump could do it. I know –- he’s had enough trouble just getting the documents declassified that he’s already asked for. But as Solomon suggests, he could add these 37 pages to his declassification order.