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Hillary Clinton’s eponymous nonprofit foundation provided ready-made fodder for a series of attacks from Donald Trump.
In a major speech last week, the presumptive Republican nominee recited a number of claims from Clinton Cash, a 2015 bestselling investigation into donations to the Clinton Foundation.
Among them: "Hillary Clinton’s State Department approved the transfer of 20 percent of America’s uranium holdings to Russia, while nine investors in the deal funneled $145 million to the Clinton Foundation — $145 million dollars."
We wanted to vet this charge of Clinton engaging in pay-to-play politics.
Trump’s claim is a reductive version of his source material’s findings and runs into several problems.
First, the State Department did approve of Russia’s gradual takeover of Uranium One, a Canadian company with significant U.S. uranium assets, but it didn’t act unilaterally. State was one of nine government agencies, not to mention independent federal and state nuclear regulators, that had to sign off on the deal.
Second, although nine people related to Uranium One did donate to the Clinton Foundation, it’s unclear whether they were still involved in the company by the time of the Russian deal and stood to benefit from it.
Third, most of their Clinton Foundation donations occurred before and during Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential bid, before she could have known she would become secretary of state.
The bottom line: While the connections between the Clinton Foundation and the Russian deal may appear fishy, there’s simply no proof of any quid pro quo.
Clinton’s unsubstantiated role
Did Clinton singlehandedly imperil national security by greenlighting the Russian deal, as Trump implies? No.
The company in question, Uranium One, does have mines, mills and tracts of land in Wyoming, Utah and other U.S. states equal to about 20 percent of U.S. uranium production capacity. It churns out a smaller portion of actual uranium produced in the United States (11 percent in 2014), according to Oilprice.com.
But that’s less cause for alarm than Trump is suggesting.
For one, the United States doesn’t actually produce all that much uranium (about 2 percent in 2015) and is actually a net importer of the chemical, according to Jeffrey Lewis, a nuclear nonproliferation expert at Middlebury Institute and former director at the New America Foundation.
For another, Russia doesn’t have the licenses to export uranium outside the United States, Oilprice.org pointed out, "so it’s somewhat disingenuous to say this uranium is now Russia’s, to do with what it pleases." The Kremlin was likely more interested in Uranium One’s assets in Kazakhstan, the world’s largest producer.
Trump is also wrong that Clinton alone allowed the transfer.
The Kremlin’s 2010 purchase of a controlling stake in Uranium One had to be approved by the nine members of the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States.
That included Clinton as secretary of state, but also the secretaries of the Treasury (the chairman of the committee), Defense, Justice, Commerce, Energy and Homeland Security as well as the the heads of the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative and the Office of Science and Technology Policy. The deal also had to be OK’d by the independent Nuclear Regulatory Commission as well as Utah’s nuclear regulator.
While it’s conceivable Clinton advocated for the deal, the author of Clinton Cash, Peter Schweizer, himself admitted that he doesn’t have "direct evidence" proving Clinton played a part. The State Department’s principal representative on the committee, Jose Fernandez, told Time that Clinton "never intervened with me on any CFIUS matter."
Why on earth would the United States allow the transfer of a uranium company?
As others, including a New York Times’ investigation, have explained, the United States was still seeking to "reset" its relationship with Russia and trying to get the Kremlin on board with its Iran nuclear deal. But at the end of the day, the Russian deal wasn’t that big.
Russia’s purchase of the company "had as much of an impact on national security as it would have if they set the money on fire," said Lewis. "That’s probably why (CFIUS and the NRC ) approved it."
A condensed timeline
Trump's suggestion that the Russian deal occurred "while nine investors funneled $145 million to the Clinton Foundation" is not supported by the evidence presented in Clinton Cash.
On the contrary, the donations detailed by author Schweizer occurred at least two years before the deal. Furthermore, it’s not clear from the book whether all nine of the Clinton Foundation donors were actually involved in the Russian deal at all.
The timeline is key here, so bear with us. Uranium One had several facelifts between 2007 and 2013.
Back in 2007, it was a South African company that had mining assets in Africa and Australia. That spring, it merged with another mining company, the Canada-based UrAsia Energy. The combined company kept Uranium One as its name but Toronto as its base. Under the terms of the deal, the shareholders of UrAsia retained a 60 percent stake in the new company.
Russia didn’t get involved until two years later, in June 2009, when its nuclear agency started buying shares in Uranium One. The Kremlin upped its stake in the company from 17 percent to a controlling 51 percent the following year, and assumed total ownership of the company in 2013 (and renamed it to Uranium One Holding).
Out of the nine investors listed in Clinton Cash, five were linked to UrAsia only, and Schweizer doesn’t say whether they were still involved with the company after the merger and when Russia was buying it out. (We asked Schweizer’s publicist via email, but we didn’t hear back.)
Using SEDAR, Canada’s filing system for public companies, we could only verify one UrAsia shareholder (Ian Telfer) who also owned stocks in Uranium One in 2010 and who chaired its Board of Directors. A New York Times investigation on the topic linked two others to Uranium One.
Why does it matter? Because UrAsia investors could have conceivably sold their shares before they could have profited off the Russian deal. In other words, giving to the Clinton Foundation wouldn’t have mattered to the allegedly Clinton-backed acquisition of 2010 if they had no stake in it.
We created a breakdown of the nine "investors" and their donations to the Clinton Foundation, based on the most complete information we could find through the Clinton Foundation, media reports and public filings as well as what Clinton Cash reported.
UrAsia Energy founder
$100,000 in March 2008
Broker at Haywood Securities, which provided $58 million in capital UrAsia-Uranium One merger, according to Clinton Cash
$1 million in 2007
$1 million in March 2008
UrAsia shareholder and director
Cohead BMO’s Global Metals and Mining group, underwriter for UrAsia-Uranium One Merger
$139.15 million to $146.9 million
As you can see in the chart, the $145 million in donations didn’t happen "while" the Russian deal was occurring in 2010. According to Clinton Cash, five donors contributed $136.4 million at or before a March 2008 benefit hosted by Giustra. While the book doesn’t specify when the other four donated to the Clinton Foundation, we were able to trace another $2.6 million to the March fundraiser.
Furthermore, the bulk of the $145 million comes from Frank Giustra, the founder of UrAsia Energy and a major Clinton Foundation donor. Guistra says he sold all of his stakes in Uranium One in the fall of 2007, "at least 18 months before Hillary Clinton became Secretary of State" and three years before the Russian deal. We couldn’t independently verify Giustra’s claim from UrAsia’s or Uranium One’s public filings.
Assuming Giustra is telling the truth, the donation amount from confirmed Uranium One investors drops from over $145 million to just $4 million. All of these occurred before the Russia deal.
One caveat: The New York Times found that Ian Telfer donated between $1.3 million and $5.6 million to the Clinton Foundation during and after the review process for the Russian deal.
So there’s evidence showing that one man involved with Uranium One (Telfer) donated millions to the Clinton Foundation at the same time as the deal. That certainly doesn’t look good for Hillary Clinton, but it’s a far cry from nine investors funneling $145 million.
Trump said, "Hillary Clinton’s State Department approved the transfer of 20 percent of America’s uranium holdings to Russia, while nine investors in the deal funneled $145 million to the Clinton Foundation."
There’s a grain of truth in this claim. Clinton’s State Department was one of nine government agencies to approve Russia’s acquisition of a company with U.S. uranium assets. Nine people related the company at some point in time donated to the Clinton Foundation, but we only found evidence that one did so "while" the Russian deal was occurring. The bulk of the $145 million in donations came two years before the deal.
Trump is certainly within his right to question the indisputable links between Clinton Foundation donors and their ties to Uranium One, but Trump’s charge exaggerates the links. More importantly, his suggestion of a quid pro quo is unsubstantiated, as Schweizer the author of Clinton Cash himself has admitted.
On the most basic level, Trump’s timeline is off. Most of the donations occurred before Clinton was named secretary of state.
We rate Trump’s claim Mostly False.
Correction: A previous version of this story misspelled the name of the State Department’s representative on the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States. He is Jose Fernandez.
YouTube, "Donald Trump's Full Anti-Hillary Clinton Speech in NYC," June 22, 2016
Peter Schweizer, Clinton Cash, May 5, 2015
Huffington Post, "Hot Rocks: Hidden Cost and Foreign Ownership of "Clean" Nuclear Fuel Emerging," May 30, 2010
Salt Lake Tribune, "Uranium company deal nearly done," Dec. 13, 2010
Oilprice.com, "Does Russia Really Own 20% Of The US’ Uranium Reserves?," May 6, 2015
World Nuclear Association, "World Uranium Mining Production," May 19, 2016
U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, "NRC Approves Transfer of Control of Uranium Recovery Licenses to Russian Firm," Nov. 24, 2010
ABC, "This Week Transcript: 'Clinton Cash' Author Peter Schweizer," April 26, 2015
Quartz, "Breaking down the Russian uranium deal hanging over Hillary Clinton’s campaign," April 23, 2015
New York Times, "Cash Flowed to Clinton Foundation Amid Russian Uranium Deal," April 24, 2015
SEDAR queries for UrAsia and Uranium One public filings
Uranium One, "Uranium One and UrAsia Energy Announce Combination to Create Emerging Senior Uranium Company," Feb. 12, 2007
The New York Times, "After Mining Deal, Financier Donated to Clinton," Jan. 31, 2008
Clinton Foundation, Contributor and Grantor Information, accessed June 24, 2016
Globe and Mail, "Renaissance Man," June 27, 2008
Globe and Mail, "Clinton charities take hit from mining bust," Feb. 19, 2008
CEO.ca, "Statement of Frank Giustra," April 23, 2015
Email interview with Josh Schwerin, Hillary Clinton spokesman, June 25, 2016
Interview with Peter Lewis, professor at Middlebury Institute, June 29, 2016
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