The first indictments from special counsel Robert Mueller were unsealed yesterday, and former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, and his business partner Rick Gates, turned themselves in to the FBI. The two men face 12 charges, including conspiracy, money laundering, tax evasion, and failure to register as an agent of a foreign government. These charges relate to their overseas business activities between 2006 and 2016.
The other revelation Monday was that a Trump campaign adviser (unpaid, apparently), pleaded guilty in July to lying to the FBI when questioned about contacts he had with the Russian government during the campaign.
The culture of “whataboutism” is alive and well in your nation’s capital. In what many of the president’s critics see as an effort to distract from president’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad Monday, many of his supporters are still crowing about the 2010 sale of a portion of U.S. uranium mining rights to a Russian state-owned company. Daily Intel discussed the underlying facts of this case last week.
The Uranium case doesn’t eliminate or even mitigate Manafort’s alleged crimes. But that does not mean it is not still a relevant part of the ongoing saga of Russian attempts to undermine U.S. national security.
Trump critics like the Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler, who manages the paper’s fact checking column, are now attacking bits and pieces of the story in an effort to downplay it. This morning, Kessler wrote a fact-check with the headline “The repeated, incorrect claim that Russia obtained ‘20 percent of our uranium’.”
The new argument is that the amount of uranium controlled by Russian nuclear giant Rosatom isn’t really 20 percent of the country’s uranium ore, and regardless, Rosatom can’t report any of that without a license. This is its own form of distraction from the very real implications of the deal.
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the United States imports almost all of the uranium that nuclear power plant operators require. In 2015, U.S. mines produced 3.7 million pounds of uranium; in 2016, that number declined further to 2.5 million pounds. Conversely, the EIA reported in a June 2016 article that “owners and operators of U.S. nuclear power reactors purchased 57 million pounds of uranium. Nearly half of these purchases originated from two countries, Canada and Kazakhstan, providing 17 million pounds and 11 million pounds of uranium, respectively.”
Note those two countries: Canada and Kazakhstan. Before its sale to Rosatom, Uranium One was a Canadian company… with extensive holdings in Kazakhstan. Many claim that the real reason Rosatom wanted to acquire Uranium One was to get its hands on the Kazakhstan mines. These same people are downplaying the amount of uranium ore that Rosatom now controls domestically.
These people forget that the man responsible for running Russia’s uranium operations in the U.S., Vadim Mikerin, was implicated in a scheme to artificially inflate uranium prices to enrich himself and other associates of Russian president Vladimir Putin. It remains unclear why the Assistant U.S. Attorney responsible for bringing (or not bringing) charges at the time, now-Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, did not file the most serious charges.
But what is clear is that Russia has sought to manipulate the price and supply of the fuel required to produce 20 percent of the nation’s electricity. That should concern anyone, regardless of what the Trump campaign did or did not do.