Leading House Republicans announced on Tuesday two new probes, one into how the Obama administration’s Justice Department handled a deal that gave Russia control over 20 percent of the U.S. uranium supply, and the other into how it investigated Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server when she was secretary of state.
The parallel investigations — both of which involve the House Oversight Committee working in cooperation with another panel — formally revive issues that the Trump campaign used to try to discredit his Democratic rival during the 2016 presidential race and later the conduct of then-FBI Director James B. Comey.
Democrats were quick to charge that the GOP-led probes were “designed to distract attention” from the various investigations into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, including alleged ties between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin.
“These investigations were initiated on a partisan basis, and will shed no light on Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, but then again they are not intended to do so,” Rep. Adam B. Schiff (Calif.), the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said in a statement Tuesday. “This may be good politics, but it is a disservice to the far more important cause of investigating Russian interference in our democracy and protecting our elections in 2018 and beyond from outside influence.”
The House Judiciary Committee’s probe into the Clinton email investigation focuses on well-established lines of questioning, including why Comey decided to publicly announce that the FBI was investigating Clinton but then waited months before making a similar announcement about its inquiries into Trump.
Panel leaders also promised to look into other aspects of the FBI’s timeline in deciding when to make key decisions and announcements regarding the Clinton investigation, including when the agency notified Congress about its status.
The House Oversight and Intelligence committees’ investigation also resurrects allegations that Clinton or others in the Obama administration mishandled a government decision to green-light a deal giving Russia control over a sizable percentage of the United States’ uranium resources.
Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) said Tuesday that the panel has “been looking into this for a while now” but decided to formally start the inquiry in light of new evidence, reported in the Hill, that the FBI had been investigating Russian efforts to influence the American nuclear industry through various corrupt schemes.
Nunes said the first goal of the investigation, for which the Intelligence Committee is partnering with the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, is to determine whether there was “actually an open FBI investigation or not.”
Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.), a member of the Oversight Committee, said Tuesday that members have identified a “witness who was a confidential informant who wants to talk about his role in this.” But he said they were trying to first get the witness released from a nondisclosure agreement with the Justice Department.
The uranium deal in question dates to 2009, when state-owned Russian nuclear energy company Rosatom began buying shares in Uranium One, a company based in Toronto with interests in the United States. The next year, Rosatom sought to assume majority ownership in Uranium One — a deal that the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) had to approve. Russia later assumed full ownership of the company.
At the time, Clinton was secretary of state, leading one of nine government agencies comprising CFIUS. Notably, Nunes did not mention Clinton’s name Tuesday as he announced his investigation. He, DeSantis and Rep. Peter T. King (R-N.Y.) focused on the involvement of then-Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner and the extent to which the Justice Department and the FBI had been scrutinizing the transaction or the entities involved. The Treasury representative chairs CFIUS, and the Treasury Department was the agency to which King and others sent a letter questioning the uranium deal in 2010.
The House is not the first body to resurrect the Russian uranium deal. Last week, the Senate Judiciary Committee also announced that it would be investigating the matter.
In a C-SPAN interview Monday, Clinton said the new focus on the uranium deal is “baloney” and evidence that the Trump administration is worried and trying to deflect attention away from the ongoing probes into the Trump team’s alleged ties to the Kremlin.
Nunes has become a focal point of such efforts before. Earlier this year, he came under fire for suggesting that the Obama administration had inappropriately unmasked the identities of members of the Trump transition team, and perhaps the president himself, in intelligence reports. He made those allegations after visiting the White House, leading Democrats to accuse him of coordinating his efforts with the Trump administration. Nunes, now the subject of an ethics inquiry for his actions, handed over the reins of the committee’s investigation of Russian election meddling to Rep. K. Michael Conaway (R-Tex.), but he has not recused himself from the inquiry.
Nunes said Tuesday that he has not spoken with the White House about the uranium matter. But when asked whether he would brief the White House in the future, he said, “If appropriate, yeah.”
King, appearing with Nunes, insisted that the investigation of the uranium deal was a separate matter entirely from the committee’s ongoing inquiry of Russian meddling in the U.S. election.
“This is totally different from the election issue,” King said. He stressed that his focus, at the time of the deal and now, was primarily driven by concerns about “why 20 percent of the U.S.’s uranium supply was being given to a Russian-owned company.”