Reported By Katie Bo Williams – 10/24/17 12:25 PM EDT
Two powerful House committees on Tuesday announced a joint investigation into the 2010 sale of a uranium company with holdings in the U.S. to the Russian nuclear giant Rosatom. Lawmakers on the two panels, the House Intelligence and Oversight and Government Reform Committees, say they first want to know whether there was an FBI investigation into Russian efforts to infiltrate the U.S. energy market, which at the time included assuming shares of the uranium company, Uranium One.
“We’re not going to jump to any conclusions at this time, but one of the things we’re concerned about is whether or not there was an FBI investigation — was there a DOJ investigation — and if so, why was Congress not informed of this matter? That will be the start of the probe,” Intel head Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) told reporters in the basement of the Capitol.
The Hill reported last week that the FBI had gathered evidence that Moscow had compromised an American uranium trucking firm with bribes and kickbacks as part of an effort to grow Russian President Vladimir Putin’s atomic energy business inside the United States — an investigation that predated the approval of the Uranium One sale.
The lawmakers want to know whether the deal should have been approved in the first place.
Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.) on Monday cited “very, very real concerns about why we would allow a Russian-owned company to get access to 20 percent of America’s uranium supply.”
“It’s important we find out why that deal went through.”
The House investigation retreads familiar ground for Republicans, who have used the issue of the sale to try to discredit former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton since it was revealed in conservative author Peter Schweitzer’s 2015 book “Clinton Cash.”
The approval for the takeover was inked by a nine-agency review board that included the State Department when Clinton was secretary.
Uranium One controlled land equal to about 20 percent of the U.S.’s uranium capacity, according to Oilprice.com — although experts note that the U.S. doesn’t actually produce a significant amount of the world’s uranium stock.
Rosatom began buying shares in the Toronto-based company in 2009 and in 2010 sought to obtain majority ownership, a deal which required the review board approval.
Republicans have long accused the former secretary of tying the State Department’s approval of the takeover to $145 million in donations to the Clinton Foundation.
The State Department did not take unilateral action but instead was one of the nine agencies on the review board, known as the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS). The Clinton campaign has maintained that the then-secretary of State was not directly involved in the process.
King raised his concerns with the Treasury Department at the time and said Tuesday that he was assured that the issue would be fully investigated.
“Obviously, we want to see what happened to that inquiry — what information caught their attention, what they knew then and why they acted or didn’t act,” King said.
Since that time, the lawmakers said, a confidential informant “who wants to talk about his role in this” has come forward to the committees.
The two panels are currently in discussions with the Justice Department to release that individual from a nondisclosure agreement.
“Look, it’s possible, maybe there was no FBI or DOJ investigation going on — that’s possible. We’re not going to jump to any conclusions,” Nunes said Tuesday.
The announcement of the investigation came within 30 minutes of the announcement of a separate investigation, by the Oversight and Judiciary Committees, into the Obama Justice Department’s handling of the Clinton email investigation.
Nunes and King, alongside Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.), did not mention Clinton by name in their announcement on Tuesday, and Nunes declined to say whether the committees expected to call her forward to testify.
“It’s a little premature. Let us first determine whether or not there was an open investigation by FBI or DOJ and then we’ll get back to you with more information,” Nunes told reporters.
Clinton told C-SPAN on Monday that renewed focus on Russian uranium deals approved during her tenure is nothing more than debunked “baloney” — and signals that Republicans are getting nervous about the federal investigation into Russia’s attempts to swing the 2016 election. That probe includes looking for any signs of collusion with the Trump campaign itself.
Other House Democrats echoed her assessment on Tuesday, calling the two new investigations a partisan exercise intended to divert attention away from the media frenzy surrounding the various Russia investigations.
“These investigations were initiated on a partisan basis and will shed no light on Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, but then again they are not intended to do so,” said Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee.
“Acting on the urging of the President who has repeatedly denied the intelligence agencies’ conclusions regarding Russian involvement in our election, they are designed to distract attention and pursue the president’s preferred goal — attacking Clinton and Obama.”
Republicans view the Uranium One probe as distinct from the broader House Intelligence Committee investigation into Russian election meddling, long stymied by partisan infighting.
Nunes, who said he would step back from leading that probe this spring, said that he has as of yet had no contact with the White House on this investigation.
The chairman in April faced accusations from Democrats of carrying water for Trump when he announced that he had briefed the White House on information that turned out to have come from staff on the president’s National Security Council.
House leadership is fully behind the Uranium One probe, DeSantis said Tuesday.
– This report was updated at 3:44 p.m. EST