Campaign promise fulfilled? NBC News reports this morning that Attorney General Jeff Sessions has personally ordered prosecutors to review FBI files relating to the sale of Uranium One to Rosatom, a controversial sale which raised allegations of corruption involving Bill and Hillary Clinton, the Clinton Foundation, and the State Department. The aim, NBC reports, is to determine whether the evidence warrants a second special counsel investigation:
On the orders of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Justice Department prosecutors have begun asking FBI agents to explain the evidence they found in a now dormant criminal investigation into a controversial uranium deal that critics have linked to Bill and Hillary Clinton, multiple law enforcement officials told NBC News.
The interviews with FBI agents are part of the Justice Department’s effort to fulfill a promise an assistant attorney general made to Congress last month to examine whether a special counsel was warranted to look into what has become known as the Uranium One deal, a senior Justice Department official said.
At issue is a 2010 transaction in which the Obama Administration allowed the sale of U.S. uranium mining facilities to Russia’s state atomic energy company. Hillary Clinton was secretary of state at the time, and the State Department was one of nine agencies that agreed to approve the deal after finding no threat to U.S. national security.
NBC’s report gives a brief primer on the Uranium One deal, most of which is unnecessary for Hot Air readers. We’ve covered the Uranium One scandal comprehensively over the last two and a half years, from the time the story broke through the election and beyond. Unlike some other issues involving the Clintons, the Uranium One scandal has received significant media coverage, if at times too dismissive. People who pay attention to news at all will already have some familiarity with this scandal, and one would imagine that Sessions would have brought himself up to speed very early in his tenure on the facts.
So why order this now? For one thing, Donald Trump has put a lot of pressure on Sessions to investigate Hillary Clinton, mainly to force the media to acknowledge that the Clintons had more commercial and political ties to the Russians than Trump ever did. He wanted a “sauce for the goose” probe to balance out what Trump considers a “witch hunt” investigation on Russia-collusion speculation. When the latter was still in-house at the DoJ, Trump wanted an FBI investigation for the former; now that the collusion probe has a special counsel, Trump wants the same thing for Uranium One.
That pressure increased two months ago after The Hill’s John Solomon uncovered an FBI informant who claimed that the DoJ had prevented him from blowing the whistle on Russian extortion and influence operations going back to 2009. That involved the Uranium One deal, among others, and specifically targeted Hillary Clinton. In response, Congress demanded that the DoJ lift the whistleblower’s non-disclosure agreement. A month later, Sessions told Congress that he was considering the necessity of appointing a special counsel to review the actions of the Obama-era DoJ in regard to Uranium One and the potential for a criminal investigation.
With that in mind, this doesn’t exactly look like a rush to get to the bottom of Uranium One, nor is this NBC “exclusive” a surprise. Sessions already told Congress that he was considering his options, and asking for a review from career prosecutors at the DoJ would be a necessary step — most likely the first step — in that process. One might wonder why it took a month between Session’s testimony in mid-November to now, except that the NBC report doesn’t specify the timing of the request. The review may have begun weeks ago, and prosecutors are now just getting around to interviewing the FBI agents.
Politically, of course, this would be a highly sensitive step. A criminal investigation focusing on the loser of the previous presidential election would be unprecedented in modern American politics, and possibly entirely unprecedented. It’s worth pointing out that setting this precedent could backfire on the current occupants of the White House when they exit the stage, which is probably one reason we haven’t seen this scenario unfold in the past.
No matter what Sessions decides, he’ll run the risk of large-scale political blowback. If he chooses to shut it down without a special counsel, he’ll be torn to shreds by Trump and his supporters; if he appoints a special counsel, Democrats will accuse him of touching off a constitutional crisis (it won’t be, but that’s been their slogan all year). That’s why it will either be a special counsel or nothing at all, too. Even though there’s no reason at all to go outside the DoJ for such an investigation, Sessions won’t want his fingerprints on it.
In the meantime, Trump will have what he wants — a potential bookend to the “collusion” nothingburger that may force the news media to report on the Clintons and all their slimy dealings in conjunction with the Clinton Foundation. How long Sessions will string that out is anyone’s guess, but in the end it’s not just the Clintons whose reputations will be on the line. It involves the Obama administration too, whose DoJ silenced the FBI informant for some reason. That alone is worth an Inspector General review and Congressional oversight.