The Hillary Clinton Russia Uranium One Conspiracy Theory Doesn’t Make Any Sense

by Zachary Fryer-Biggs at

Updated Oct 27, 2017-

A conspiracy theory involving uranium, Russians, bribery and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton managed to trigger a congressional probe this week. But if the story seems unbelievable, well, that’s exactly what it is, some expert observers said.

“I have to say that this is one of those things where reasonable people cannot disagree: There just aren’t two sides,” said Jeffrey Lewis, an expert on nuclear materials and nonproliferation at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey, California.

The controversy centers around a 2010 deal that allowed a Russian company to take over management of uranium mines in Wyoming and Utah, and it gained steam after The Hill reported on October 17 that the FBI had been investigating allegations that American trucking companies offered bribes to Russian nuclear officials tied to the deal.

According to documents released by The Hill, the bribes were organized by Vadim Mikerin, who managed U.S. operations for the Russian firm Rosatom and its subsidiary Tenex—the company that would buy Uranium One, the manager of the mines—and allegedly helped the American companies secure deals to truck Russian nuclear material in the U.S. through kickbacks to Russian officials.

The Hill described the bribes as “designed to grow [Russian President] Vladimir Putin’s atomic energy business inside the United States,” although the alleged bribes, which totaled about $2 million, covered only transport contracts for Russian nuclear material and didn’t actually increase Russian uranium sales in the U.S.

The U.S. produces very little uranium—about 2 million pounds in 2015, a year nuclear power plants imported 57 million pounds of the element. The vast majority of the uranium comes from Kazakhstan and Australia.

But the idea that Russia had bought control of one of the larger uranium mines in the U.S. led some imaginations to run wild, even if that uranium isn’t being used for weapons. Russia and the U.S. have worked to shrink nuclear stockpiles in recent years.

Conservative media outlets have been circulating theories about the deal for years, and Donald Trump even brought it up while campaigning for the presidency. Trump claimed that Clinton “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.”

The Hill article sent such coverage into overdrive. Lou Dobbs ran a segment on his Fox Business show under the banner “Russia Collusion” and featuring a photo of Clinton the day the story was published. Trump hyped the theory again several times in the past week, calling the deal a “modern-day Watergate” and the “real Russia story.”

The guilt by association theory centers on Clinton’s role on the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS). The committee reviews deals that would transfer to foreign ownership companies that might be sensitive to national security.

According to the conspiracy theory, Clinton received money from several people affiliated with the uranium mine deal, and then pushed the CFIUS to approve it in return.

The problem is, that’s not how CFIUS works. Clinton’s vote would have been only one of nine, as the reviews are run by the Treasury Department and other Cabinet secretaries get to weigh in.

“The secretary of state is one, and frankly not usually a very powerful, member of the committee,” said Steve Grundman, a fellow at the Atlantic Council who dealt with CFIUS reviews while serving in the Pentagon in the 1990s. “You have to remember with CFIUS, the first letter stands for the committee.”