NEWS AND ANALYSIS:
Some U.S. national security officials are urging an investigation of the burgeoning Uranium One scandal to focus on whether the New START arms treaty with Russia was compromised by Moscow payoffs and not just by Obama administration policies that sought to curry favor with the Kremlin.
The Obama team, through the Treasury Department-led Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), approved the 2010 sale of 51 percent of Canada-based Uranium One to JSC Atomredmetzoloto, or ARMZ, the mining arm of Rosatom, the Russian state nuclear energy agency. The merger gave Russia control of some 20 percent of U.S. uranium extraction capability.
In 2015, it was revealed that nine lobbyists for Uranium One paid the Clinton Foundation, Bill and Hillary Clinton’s charitable organization, $145 million before, during and after the deal was approved. Bill Clinton also traveled to Moscow, where he was paid $500,000 by a Russian government-linked bank for a speech.
Last month, the Uranium One case resurfaced when news reports revealed that the FBI apparently covered up information about illegal Russian attempts to lobby then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
The deal was approved by senior Obama officials, including Mrs. Clinton, apparently without knowledge of an FBI probe that led to the conviction of a Russian lobbyist linked to the deal who was found guilty of bribery and kickbacks. A confidential source used in the prosecution was forced to remain silent and only recently revealed details of the payoffs.
Since the disclosures, Congress has jumped on the Uranium One deal and is investigating, including potential links between conciliatory policies toward Moscow by the Obama administration and the New START treaty.
President Trump told Russian President Vladimir Putin in February that New START was among several bad deals concluded by the Obama administration.
One U.S. national security official told Inside the Ring that the Uranium One deal is symptomatic of a bigger scandal involving the compromise of American security in the New START treaty, a pact that contains less-than-robust verification procedures.
“What is more valuable to Putin: a few billion dollars worth of uranium, or the leverage the compromised New START deal allows Putin to make with Obama?” the officials said. “Have the Russians reduced our arsenal while at the same time buying time to modernize their own, knowing full well Obama was not going to invest a dime in nuclear weapons?”
Mrs. Clinton, as secretary of state, lobbied hard to win ratification of New START during a lame-duck Senate session in December 2010. In November 2010, Mrs. Clinton called the treaty “critical” to the U.S.-Russian relationship she was trying to “reset.”
Mark Schneider, a former Pentagon nuclear official, said there are national security implications to the Uranium One deal — but not much linkage to New START.
“Russia has enough plutonium and highly enriched uranium for a nuclear force vastly larger than the one it can possibly produce in the next two decades,” he said.
“We have killed our uranium enrichment capability, which in turn has killed our tritium production capability. The emerging tritium crisis eliminates any potential to hedge against a greater-than-expected threat, and we will soon start losing capability that even the Obama administration thought was necessary.”
Uranium One will solidify Moscow’s hold on the uranium enrichment market and will increase leverage on nations that use low-enriched uranium-powered reactors.
“Uranium One is a symptom of Third World corruption coming to the United States,” Mr. Schneider said.
“The Russians bought the secretary of state with massive bribes — $500,000 for a speech and $145 million for the Clinton Foundation, their personal piggy bank,” he said. “The Democrat leadership in the Congress does not care. Unless they are punished, this is just the beginning.”
CHINA PRESSED FACEBOOK TO CURB DISSIDENT
Sen. Marco Rubio on Wednesday elicited testimony from an executive of social media giant Facebook revealing that China’s government pressured the company to limit access to Facebook by New York-based Chinese dissident Guo Wengui, a major target of Beijing disinformation programs.
During a hearing of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, the Florida Republican asked Colin Stretch, Facebook’s vice president and general counsel, if the Chinese government influenced the company’s decision to restrict Mr. Guo’s Facebook account. Mr. Stretch denied that Facebook gave in to the pressure.
Mr. Guo, an exiled billionaire real estate mogul, has become a critic of what he says is widespread corruption among senior Chinese leaders. He has become hugely popular on Chinese and U.S. social media with hundreds of thousands and even millions of supporters.
His Chinese-language Facebook page was limited after Mr. Guo allegedly posted personal information in violation of company rules.
YouTube restricted Mr. Guo’s ability to post live-streaming videos, and Twitter blocked some features of his account on that social media outlet.
Mr. Guo has denied violating the social media companies’ rules and attributes the curbs to a Beijing campaign to silence his criticism.
The dissident has claimed his exposure of corruption by one of the most powerful leaders, Politburo Standing Committee member Wang Qishan, led to Mr. Wang’s removal from the committee during last week’s Communist Party Congress. The official reason for Mr. Wang’s removal was that he had reached the unofficial retirement age of 68.
One indication of Beijing’s sensitivity to Mr. Guo’s disclosures is that the Chinese Propaganda Department recently censored the use of the phrase “73” — a close homonym in Chinese for Wang Qisan.
“We reviewed a report on that account, and analyzed it through regular channels using our regular procedures,” Mr. Stretch said. “The blocking was not of the account in its entirety, but I believe was of specific posts that violated our policy.”
Pressed by Mr. Rubio, Mr. Stretch admitted China pressured the company. “I want to make sure I’m being precise and clear. We did receive a report from representatives of the Chinese government about the account. We analyzed that report as we would any other and took action solely based on our policies.”
Facebook’s restrictions involved unpublishing one page and restricting Mr. Guo’s ability to post information on a profile page.
The restrictions come amid an ongoing push by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg to lobby China to open its domestic internet to Facebook, where it is currently banned. Mr. Zuckerberg went so far as to ask Chinese President Xi Jinping to name his child. Mr. Xi declined.
BANNON ON POLITICS
President Trump‘s former chief strategist Steve Bannon spoke Tuesday night at the 40th annual dinner hosted of the Pumpkin Papers Irregulars, a group of anti-communists dedicated to the memory of Whittaker Chambers, who helped expose Soviet agent Alger Hiss in the late 1940s.
Despite opposition to the president, “we have a chance to realign the electoral map like 1932. All we have to do is hang and work together,” Mr. Bannon said.
Mr. Bannon said the election of Mr. Trump a year ago was a great victory for the American people.
“What’s happened since then, we’ve had the establishment, the progressive Democrat establishment, the cultural Marxists that run our foundations, the opposition party media, try to nullify that election,” Mr. Bannon said.
“And we’ve had the Republican Party, the Republican establishment stand by and allow this to happen,” he added.
That political situation is creating one of the great crises in American history, he predicted.
“It’s coming. I think it’s going to come in 2018. If not, it will be in 2019. They are going to try and nullify this election,” Mr. Bannon said.
Mr. Bannon also warned that international dangers are growing.
“We have coming together now, as clear as the morning sun, China, Persia and Turkey in an axis that is going to be collectively the greatest enemy, the greatest force of evil we’ve ever faced,” he said.
The threat involves political Islam coupled with China’s Confucian, mercantilist, authoritarian society, driven by cultural Marxism at its core.
“We’ve never faced an enemy like this,” he said. “And that is one of the reasons the cultural elite in this country are trying to nullify this election. It’s imperative we win this fight.”
Mr. Bannon said he has adopted a “very aggressive stance” as a result and regards Mr. Trump as a “blunt-force instrument that wreaked havoc on the Clinton machine.”
The battle will not be easy and will require sustained pressure to rescue the country, he said, adding, “We’ve got a very, very, very tough fight ahead of us.”
• Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter at @BillGertz.