Collusion with Russia: Uranium One

“That, naturally, is where the Clinton Foundation came in. And while Skolkovo is not a pretty story, Uranium One is even worse, involving the surrender to Putin’s regime of fully one-fifth of the United States’ uranium-mining stock, an outrage concealed by the tanking of a criminal investigation into the American subsidiary of Russia’s state-controlled nuclear energy and uranium-mining conglomerate, Rosatom.

Once again, Peter Schweizer’s Clinton Cash has exposed much of this scandal, this time supplemented by excellent reporting from The New York Times.28 Significant background of the story predates the Obama years, involving more of Washington’s history of “collusion with Russia.”

The United States government has been conducting uranium commerce with Russia since the Soviet Union imploded. In 1992, the Bush administration agreed with the nascent Russian federation that U.S. nuclear providers would be permitted to purchase uranium from Russia’s disassembled nuclear warheads (after it had been down-blended from its highly enriched weapons-grade level). Uranium is a key component of nuclear power, from which the United States derives about 20 percent of our total electrical power, generated by approximately ninety-nine commercial reactors operating at sixty-one nuclear power plants in thirty states. Relatively speaking, our country does not have vast uranium resources. We currently produce only about 7 percent of the uranium we need and must import the rest; in 2017, for example, Russia accounted for 18 percent.29

In 2005, under the guise of the Clinton Foundation’s mobilization to address the incidence of HIV/AIDS in Kazakhstan (where the virus was nearly nonexistent), Bill Clinton helped his Canadian billionaire pal Frank Giustra convince the ruling despot, Nursultan Nazarbayev, to grant coveted uranium-mining rights to Giustra’s company, Ur-Asia Energy. Ur-Asia had no background in this highly competitive but potentially lucrative business. Nazarbayev, a former Communist party apparatchik, has ruled Kazakhstan for almost thirty years, and is notorious for human rights abuses and looting the treasury.30

In the months that followed, Giustra gave an astonishing $31.3 million to the Clinton Foundation and pledged $100 million more. With the Kazakh rights secured, Ur-Asia was able to expand its holdings and attract new investors. One was Ian Telfer, who also donated $2.35 million to the Clinton Foundation. Ur-Asia merged with Uranium One, a South African company, in a $3.5 billion deal. Telfer became Uranium One’s chairman. The new company proceeded to buy up major uranium assets in the United States.

Meanwhile, as tends to happen in dictatorships, Nazarbayev turned on the head of Kazakhstan’s uranium agency (Kazatomprom), who was arrested for selling valuable mining rights to such foreign entities as Ur-Asia/Uranium One. This was likely done at the urging of Russia, the neighborhood bully. Rosatom, the Kremlin-controlled nuclear energy and uranium extraction conglomerate, was hoping to grab the Kazakh mines—whether by taking them outright or by taking over Uranium One.

The arrest, which happened a few months after Obama took office, had Uranium One’s Clinton Foundation investors deeply concerned that the Kazakh mining rights would be lost. Uranium One turned to Secretary Clinton’s State Department for help. As State Department cables disclosed by WikiLeaks show, Uranium One officials wanted more than a U.S. government statement to the media; they pressed for written confirmation that their mining licenses were valid. The State Department leapt into action: An energy officer from the U.S. embassy immediately held meetings with the Kazakh regime. A few days later, it was announced that Russia’s Rosatom had purchased 17 percent of Uranium One. Problem solved.

Well, not quite. Rosatom was only fleetingly satisfied. Russia wanted a controlling interest in Uranium One. That would mean a controlling interest not just in the Afghan mines but in the U.S. assets that Uranium One had acquired—amounting to 20 percent of total U.S. uranium stock.

On this point, much of the anti-Clinton (and pro-Trump) coverage in conservative media has misaimed its focus.31 The tendency is to hype the U.S. uranium assets and the fact that uranium can be used to make nuclear bombs. But Russia did not need our uranium for weapons purposes—no more than Newcastle needs our coal. Rather, to generate wealth, Putin’s regime has long sought to develop and exploit its capacity as a commercial energy producer. The Kremlin was no doubt delighted at the opportunity to grab American uranium stocks: as I’ve already noted, we do not produce enough uranium for our domestic electricity needs, so anytime Putin takes from us something we need, it potentially becomes a leverage point for him and thus a problem for us. But in the greater scheme of things, the U.S. assets were a comparatively small objective next to the Kremlin’s real target: the copious Kazakh stocks Uranium One owned.

Still, because Russia’s move on Uranium One implicated significant U.S. uranium assets, federal law required approval by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States. CFIUS is a powerful tribunal, composed of the leaders of 14 U.S. government agencies involved in national security and commerce. In 2010, these included not only Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who had cultivated a reputation as a hawk opposed to such foreign purchases, but Attorney General Eric Holder. This is important because, at the very time the Uranium One transaction was under consideration, the Justice Department and the FBI were conducting an investigation of Rosatom’s ongoing U.S. racketeering, extortion, and money-laundering scheme.

The Russian commercial agent responsible for the sale and transportation of uranium to the United States is a subsidiary of Rosatom known as “Tenex” (formally, JSC Techsnabexport). Tenex (and by extension, Rosatom) has an American arm called “Tenam USA,” based in Bethesda, Maryland. Around the time President Obama came to power, the Russian official in charge of Tenam was Vadim Mikerin. The Obama administration reportedly issued a visa for Mikerin in 2010, but a racketeering investigation led by the FBI determined that he was already operating here in 2009.

As Tenam’s general director, Mikerin was responsible for arranging and managing Rosatom/Tenex’s contracts with American uranium purchasers. This gave him tremendous leverage over the U.S. companies. With the assistance of several confederates, Mikerin used this leverage to extort and defraud the U.S. contractors into paying inflated prices for uranium. The proceeds were then laundered through shell companies and secret bank accounts in Latvia, Cyprus, Switzerland, and the Seychelles Islands—though sometimes transactions were handled in cash, with the skim divided into envelopes stuffed with thousands of dollars. The inflated payments served two purposes: they enriched Kremlin-connected energy officials in the United States and in Russia to the tune of millions of dollars; and they compromised the American companies that paid the bribes, rendering players in U.S. nuclear energy—a sector critical to national security—vulnerable to blackmail by Moscow.

To further the Kremlin’s push for nuclear-energy expansion, Mikerin sought to retain a lobbyist. Naturally, he planned not only to use the lobbyist’s services but to extort kickbacks, just as he did with U.S. energy companies with which he dealt. Aided by an associate connected to Russian organized-crime groups, Mikerin found his lobbyist—a man named William Douglas Campbell. Mikerin’s solicitation in 2009 made Campbell uncomfortable, worried that he’d end up on the wrong side of the law. He contacted the FBI and revealed what he knew. From then on, he became the Bureau’s informant, and the Justice Department ultimately relied on his information to arrest and prosecute Mikerin and his conspirators.

Interestingly, at the time Campbell started cooperating, the FBI was led by director Robert Mueller, the special counsel who investigated whether Trump had colluded with Russia. The case against Russia’s subsidiary, Tenam, was centered in Maryland, where the U.S. attorney was Rod Rosenstein—President Trump’s deputy attorney general through most of Mueller’s Trump–Russia investigation.

Thanks to Campbell’s work, the FBI was able to understand and monitor the racketeering enterprise almost from the start. By mid-May 2010, it could already prove the scheme and three separate extortionate payments Mikerin had squeezed out of the informant.

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