Senate Judiciary opens probe into Obama-era Russian nuclear bribery case

The Senate Judiciary Committee has launched a probe into a Russian nuclear bribery case, demanding several federal agencies disclose whether they knew the FBI had uncovered the corruption before the Obama administration in 2010 approved a controversial uranium deal with Moscow.
 
Sen. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyOvernight Health Care — Presented by Johnson & Johnson – House progressives may try to block vote on Pelosi drug bill | McConnell, Grassley at odds over Trump-backed drug pricing bill | Lawmakers close to deal on surprise medical bills GOP senators request interview with former DNC contractor to probe possible Ukraine ties Congressional leaders unite to fight for better future for America's children and families MORE (R-Iowa), the committee chairman, on Wednesday raised the issue in public during questioning of Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsThe shifting impeachment positions of Jonathan Turley Rosenstein, Sessions discussed firing Comey in late 2016 or early 2017: FBI notes Justice Dept releases another round of summaries from Mueller probe MORE during an oversight hearing.
 
The senator cited a series of The Hill stories that showed the FBI had evidence that Russian nuclear officials were involved in a racketeering scheme as early as 2009, well before the uranium deal was approved.
 
"According to government documents and recent news reports, the Justice Department had an ongoing criminal investigation for bribery, extortion, money laundering, into officials for a Russian company making purchase of Uranium One," Grassley said. "That purchase was approved during previous administration and resulted in Russians owning 20 percent of America's uranium mining capacity.
 
"What are you doing to find out how Russian takeover of American uranium was allowed to occur despite criminal conduct by Russian company that the Obama administration approved to make the purchase?" he asked Sessions.
 
Sessions responded: "I would offer that some people have gone to jail in that transaction already, but the article talks about other issues. Without confirming or denying existence of any particular investigation, I would say I hear your concerns and they will be reviewed."
 
Senate Judiciary aides said the committee had sent requests for information to 10 federal agencies involved in the Russian uranium approvals.
 
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The committee is discussing other bipartisan requests to make in the coming days, and Grassley also is expected to seek access to potential witnesses soon, escalating from the information requests he made a few years back, according to people familiar with the investigation.

The senator also specifically conveyed in recent letters he no longer accepts the Obama administration's assurances from 2015 that there was no basis to block the Uranium One deal.

"I am not convinced by these assurances," Grassley wrote the Homeland Security Department last week. "The sale of Uranium One resulted in a Russian government takeover of a significant portion of U.S. uranium mining capacity. In light of that fact, very serious questions remain about the basis for the finding that this transaction did not threaten to impair U.S. national security."
 
Though Wednesday's hearing was scheduled for other purposes, aides said they expected Grassley to ask Sessions questions about a story published in The Hill on Tuesday that disclosed the FBI had uncovered evidence showing Russian nuclear officials were engaged in a racketeering scheme involving bribes, kickbacks and money laundering designed to expand Russian President Vladimir Putin's atomic energy business on U.S. soil.
 
The evidence was first gathered in 2009 and 2010, but Department of Justice officials waited until 2014 to bring any charges. In between that time, President Obama's multi-agency Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) gave approval to Russia's Rosatom to buy a Canadian mining company called Uranium One that controlled 20 percent of America's uranium deposits.
 
The committee's members at the time included former Attorney General Eric HolderEric Himpton HolderThe shifting impeachment positions of Jonathan Turley Pelosi refers to Sinclair's Rosen as 'Mr. Republican Talking Points' over whistleblower question Krystal Ball: Billionaires panicking over Sanders candidacy MORE and former Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonYang expands campaign with senior hires for digital operations Top GOP legislator in California leaves party GOP senators request interview with former DNC contractor to probe possible Ukraine ties MORE, whose husband, former President Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonThe Hill's Morning Report — Pelosi makes it official: Trump will be impeached Impeachment can't wait Turley: Democrats offering passion over proof in Trump impeachment MORE, collected large speech fees and millions in charitable donations from Russia and other entities interested in the outcome of the decision.
 
Grassley dispatched letters last week to all the federal agencies whose executives served on the CFIUS when the decision was made, demanding to know whether they were aware of the FBI case before they voted.
 
He also questioned whether the documented corruption that was uncovered posed a national security threat that should have voided approval of the uranium deal.
 
"It has recently come to the Committee’s attention that employees of Rosatom were involved in a criminal enterprise involving a conspiracy to commit extortion and money laundering during the time of the CFIUS transaction," Grassley wrote in one such letter addressed to Sessions.
 
"The fact that Rosatom subsidiaries in the United States were under criminal investigation as a result of a U.S. intelligence operation apparently around the time CFIUS approved the Uranium One/Rosatom transaction raises questions about whether that information factored into CFIUS’ decision to approve the transaction," the chairman added.
 
Grassley has been one of the few congressional leaders to have consistently raised questions about the uranium deal, and in 2015 agencies told his committee they had no national security reasons to reject the Moscow approval.
 
Those representations, however, made no mention of the FBI probe or the national security issues uncovered by agents, including the fact that Russian officials had compromised an American trucking firm that transported uranium.
 
Grassley's letters demanded answers from the agencies by no later than Oct. 26.
 
This story was updated on Oct. 11 at 11:55 a.m.