Courts & Crime

Justice Department labels Devin Nunes’ claim on Russia a conspiracy theory

A talking point used by some leading Republicans to discredit Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe has been labeled a conspiracy theory by Justice Department prosecutors.

Amid Mueller’s lengthy and controversial probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. elections, vocal GOP leaders such as Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., and Rep. Mark Meadows, R-NC, pushed an alternative narrative.

The Obama administration, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the Clinton Foundation might have conspired with Russia, they argued, giving the foreign nation a stake in U.S. uranium production and the Clintons a financial windfall.

It became known as the Uranium One conspiracy and centered on a 2010 deal that allowed the mining division of Russia’s nuclear energy agency Rosatom to take a controlling stake in Uranium One, a Canadian company with mining interests in the United States.

Nunes, Meadows, President Donald Trump and other conservative voices had alleged, without evidence, that the deal benefited Hillary Clinton and her family run Clinton Foundation. Clinton looked the other way and did not oppose the deal, they alleged, because of contributions made to the foundation.

The deal was subjected to national-security review and was unopposed by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States. That multi-agency panel typically provides an annual report that gives the number of deals it has reviewed but provides few details.

The Uranium One conspiracy theory is likely to crop back up as a trial is set to begin this month in Maryland for Mark Lambert, the ex-president of a company that transported nuclear matter to the United States.

Lambert was indicted in January 2018 for allegedly paying bribes to Russians in order to win the business. Social media and some conservative websites incorrectly said Lambert’s indictment was tied to an FBI probe into the sale of Uranium One, a charge even echoed by conservative news publications. But the FBI was not looking at Uranium One, it was actually investigating kickback schemes among U.S.-based representatives of Russian energy firms.

In the jury selection documents for Lambert’s trial, made public Monday, Justice Department prosecutors proposed two subsections (V and VII) that each fall under the heading, “Unrelated Conspiracy Theories.”

“Although this is a case involving an alleged criminal conspiracy with a Russian official, this case has nothing at all to do with the investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, or alleged collusion between the Donald Trump Presidential Campaign and Russia, or alleged Russian interference in U.S. elections. I repeat: that investigation has nothing at all to do with this case,” reads one item in the lengthy jury instruction proposed by attorneys working for Maryland U.S. Attorney Robert K. Hur. He is a former deputy to Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general who oversaw Mueller’s probe.

A subsequent proposed item of jury instruction noted, “This case also has nothing at all to do with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the Clinton Foundation, or the approval by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (or “CFIUS”) of the Russian government’s acquisition of a company called Uranium One and certain uranium rights in the United States. I repeat: those issues have nothing at all to do with this case.”

That Hur’s office proposed these instructions under the label of conspiracy theories calls into doubt allegations that Lambert was tied in any way to the Uranium One deal.

Lambert’s business partner Daren Condrey and Russian businessman Vadim Mikerin were charged by the Justice Department with bribery and fraud in 2014 in a kickback scheme that was alleged to have started well before the sale of Uranium One. Condrey pleaded guilty in 2015.

Once started, Lambert’s bribery trial is expected to run through mid-November.

Reps. Nunes and Meadows did not respond to requests for comment.

Kate Irby and Brian Murphy contributed reporting.

Kevin G. Hall: @KevinGHall, 202-383-6038.
Investigative reporter Kevin G. Hall shared the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for the Panama Papers. He was a 2010 Pulitzer finalist for reporting on the U.S. financial crisis and won of the 2004 Sigma Delta Chi for best foreign correspondence for his series on modern-day slavery in Brazil. He is past president of the Society of American Business Editors and Writers.
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