Trump Team Uses Debunked Right-Wing Media Smear To Deflect From Russia Scandals

››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN

President Donald Trump and Sebastian Gorka, Trump's deputy assistant and the former national security editor for Breitbart.com, claimed that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton “approve[d] the sale of 20 percent of our uranium to Russia” in an attempt to deflect from the administration’s ongoing scandals involving Russia. The claim, which originally came from discredited Clinton Cash author and Breitbart editor Peter Schweizer, has been repeated by right-wing media but, repeatedly debunked by other sources. This is not the first time Trump has cited the debunked claim and Gorka has a history of pushing conspiracy theories.

Trump And Gorka Deflect From Russia Concerns By Pushing Discredited Uranium Sale Claims

Trump: Hillary Clinton Gave Russia “20 Percent Of Our Uranium.” During a February 16 press conference, President Donald Trump deflected from questions about his administration’s repeated conversations with Russian officials during the campaign by claiming that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave “Russia 20 percent of the uranium in our country.” From the press conference:

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Now tomorrow you'll say, “Donald Trump wants to get along with Russia. This is terrible.” It's not terrible. It's good. We had Hillary Clinton try and do a reset. We had Hillary Clinton give Russia 20 percent of the uranium in our country. You know what uranium is, right? This thing called nuclear weapons and other things, like lots of things are done with uranium, including some bad things. Nobody talks about that. I didn't do anything for Russia. I've done nothing for Russia. Hillary Clinton gave them 20 percent of our uranium. Hillary Clinton did a reset, remember, with the stupid plastic button that made us all look like a bunch of jerks. [Trump Press Conference, 2/16/17]

Gorka: Clinton Approved “The Sale Of 20 Percent Our Uranium To Russia.” During an appearance on Fox News’ Hannity, Trump’s deputy assistant, Sebastian Gorka, attempted to deflect from conversations about the administration’s reported communications with Russia by claiming that it’s “ironic” that when Hillary Clinton was secretary of state she “approve[d] the sale of 20 percent of our uranium to Russia.” From the February 15 edition of Fox News’ Hannity:

SEAN HANNITY (HOST): What about U.S.-Russian relations? We can go back and Hillary Clinton wanted a Russian reset. And Obama, for example, said, “Mr. Medvedev, I'll have more flexibility after I’m reelected,” which I think he wanted to convey to Vladimir Putin, but not the American people, interestingly enough. Do you think there’s an opportunity, in light of Ukraine and Crimea, in light of Russian aggression, to reset and maybe have an alliance to defeat ISIS? Is that possible?

SEBASTIAN GORKA: Look, I think the best answer to that is the president's own words. Do you remember he gave a press conference, one of his last press conferences from Trump Tower, where somebody asked him the question about you and Putin and so on and so forth. And he was super blunt. He said, “Look, I’d like to be able to work with Vladimir Putin. I don’t think it's going to happen, and if it doesn't, so be it.” But there are of course some common interests. They’ve suffered from jihadi terrorism, as have we. But if you look at what they’ve done in Crimea, you look at the way they were facilitated, they weren't stopped by the Obama administration, from invading another country. You look at the way at how our U.N. ambassador now has categorically attacked that aggression, that occupation. It's ironic, isn’t it, that the last administration, that whispered to Medvedev, that have their own reset button, that saw Secretary Clinton approve the sale of 20 percent of our uranium to Russia. That they’re not the ones that created the problem, but we are? I’ve learned one thing in the last three and a half weeks, Sean. Eighty percent of what you read in the media is 180 degrees out of whack with reality. [Fox News, Hannity, 2/15/17]

Discredited Uranium Conspiracy Theory Comes From Clinton Cash Author And Breitbart Editor Peter Schweizer

Clinton Cash Author Peter Schweizer Has A Long History Of Making Errors And Retractions And Using Questionable Sourcing. Peter Schweizer, a Breitbart.com editor, wrote the 2015 book Clinton Cash where the uranium claim originated. Schweizer has a disreputable history of producing reporting marked by errors and retractions, with numerous reporters having excoriated him for citing facts that "do not check out" and sources that "do not exist" and for generally failing to practice "Journalism 101." [Media Matters, 4/20/15, 4/24/15]

Time: Schweizer Offered "No Indication Of Hillary Clinton's Personal Involvement In, Or Even Knowledge Of, The Deliberations." A Time magazine report debunked Schweizer's conspiracy theory that Clinton approved the sale of the uranium mining company Uranium One to the Russian government by explaining that it is "based on little evidence." The publication reported, to the contrary, that an "official involved in the process said Clinton had nothing to do with the decision":

The suggestion of outside influence over U.S. decisionmaking is based on little evidence -- the allegations are presented as questions rather than proof. The deal's approval was the result of an extensive interagency process that required the assent of at least nine different officials and agencies. A former State Department official who participated in the deal's approval told TIME that Clinton did not weigh in on the uranium sale one way or the other, and her campaign calls the allegations in the book "absurd conspiracy theories."

[...]

The State Department's role in approving the deal was part of an extensive bureaucratic process, and the chapter offers no indication of Hillary Clinton's personal involvement in, or even knowledge of, the deliberations. State has just one vote on the nine-member committee, which also includes the departments of Defense, Treasury and Energy. Disagreements are traditionally handled at the staff level, and if they are not resolved, they are escalated to deputies at the relevant agencies. If the deputies can't resolve the dispute, the issues can be elevated to the Cabinet Secretary level and, if needed, to the President for a decision. The official chairman of CFIUS is the Treasury Secretary, not the Secretary of State.

[...]

One official involved in the process said Clinton had nothing to do with the decision in the Uranium One case. Jose Hernandez, who as former Assistant Secretary of State for Economic, Energy and Business Affairs was the State Department's principal representative on the committee, rejected the notion that Clinton's foundation ties had any bearing on the deal. "Secretary Clinton never intervened with me on any CFIUS matter," he told TIME. A spokesperson for Hillary for America, Josh Schwerin, also attacked the suggestions made in the book. The transaction "went through the usual process and the official responsible for managing CFIUS reviews has stated that the Secretary did not intervene with him," Schwerin says, "This book is twisting previously known facts into absurd conspiracy theories." [Time, 4/22/15, via Media Matters]

Schweizer: "No, We Don't Have Direct Evidence." During an ABC News interview, Schweizer admitted to host George Stephanopoulos he had no "direct evidence" proving Clinton intervened on the issue. Stephanopoulos had noted that the assistant secretary of state, who sat on the committee that organized the deal, the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), said Clinton “never intervened” in the committee’s operations:

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS (HOST): But the assistant secretary who sat -- the assistant secretary of state who sat on the committee said she never intervened on any CFIUS issue at all.

PETER SCHWEIZER: Well, I think that deserves further scrutiny. I would question that. To argue that (INAUDIBLE)...

STEPHANOPOULOS: But based on what? Based on what?

SCHWEIZER: Well, I think based on her (INAUDIBLE)...

STEPHANOPOULOS: Do you have any evidence that she actually intervened in this issue?

SCHWEIZER: No, we don't have direct evidence. But it warrants further investigation because, again, George, this is part of the broader pattern. You either have to come to the conclusion that these are all coincidences or something else is afoot. [ABC, This Week with George Stephanopoulos, 4/26/15]

Fox's Chris Wallace To Schweizer: "You Don't Have A Single Piece Of Evidence That She Was Involved In This Deal." During an interview with Schweizer about the uranium deal, Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace observed: "You don't have a single piece of evidence that she was involved in this deal, that she sent a memo to the person -- the State Department representative who was on this committee -- and said, ‘Hey, we want to approve the Uranium One sale.’" [Fox Broadcasting Co., Fox News Sunday, 4/26/15]

Separate State, Federal, And Foreign Agencies Had To Approve The Deal. From Time:

Before purchasing a controlling stake in Uranium One, the Russian conglomerate also had to get approval from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, an independent agency outside of the State Department's purview, as well as Utah's nuclear regulator. It also received the sign-off of Canada's foreign investment review agency. [Time, 4/22/15]

The Uranium One Deal "Was The Outgrowth Of A Diplomatic Initiative" Started By The Bush Administration. Time wrote of the Uranium One purchase: "The deal itself was the outgrowth of a diplomatic initiative launched by the Administration of George W. Bush to expand trade opportunities between Russia and the U.S., including in the area of nuclear power." Schweizer worked as a consultant to the Office of Presidential Speechwriting in the Bush White House from 2008-2009. [Time, 4/22/15]

Right-Wing Media Parroted Schweizer’s Claim To Smear Clinton

Fox’s Bret Baier Blamed Clinton For The Uranium Deal. Fox News host Bret Baier parroted Schweizer’s claims, asserting that “American uranium could well be sent to the very nation we're negotiating with to try to slow its ability to develop a nuclear weapon” because of “far-reaching … effect[s] of the Clinton blur.” From the April 4, 2015 edition of Fox News’ Special Report:

BRET BAIER (HOST): So what this amounts to, in the end, is a Russian company essentially controlled by Vladimir Putin, will now be in charge of a substantial portion of American uranium. Russia sends uranium to its client state, Iran. So American uranium could well be sent to the very nation we're negotiating with to try to slow its ability to develop a nuclear weapon. Thus, we see how far-reaching the effect of the Clinton blur, as Schweizer puts it, can be. [Fox News, Special Report, 4/4/15]

Infowars: Clinton And Her Department Said “Yes To The Uranium Deal.” Infowars claimed that Clinton and her State Department were the ones who said “yes to the uranium deal.” From an August 29 Infowars post:

Consider this plot line. Follow the bouncing ball.

Putin wants 20% of uranium on US soil. That 20% is owned by a Canadian mining company.

The Canadian executives want to sell it to Putin.

But because uranium is a US “national security” product, various US federal agencies have to OK the deal. One of those agencies is the US State Department.

The State Department is headed up by Hillary Clinton. Her Department says yes to the uranium deal.

The kicker? Those Canadian mining executives, who wanted the sale to Putin to go through, donated millions to the Clinton Foundation.

Getting the picture? [Infowars, 8/29/16]

National Review: “Clinton Approved The Russian Takeover Of Uranium One.” National Review asserted that “the most notorious corruption episode of Secretary Clinton’s tenure involves the State Department’s approval of a deal that surrendered fully one-fifth of the United States’ uranium-mining capacity to Vladimir Putin’s anti-American thugocracy in Russia,” claiming that “Clinton approved the Russian takeover of Uranium One.” From an October 29 article:

While there are other egregious transactions, the most notorious corruption episode of Secretary Clinton’s tenure involves the State Department’s approval of a deal that surrendered fully one-fifth of the United States’ uranium-mining capacity to Vladimir Putin’s anti-American thugocracy in Russia.

[...]

Uranium One turned to Secretary Clinton’s State Department for help. As State Department cables disclosed by WikiLeaks show, Uranium One officials wanted more than a U.S. statement to the media; they pressed for written confirmation that their mining licenses were valid. Secretary Clinton’s State Department leapt into action: An energy officer from the U.S. embassy immediately held meetings with the Kazakh regime. A few days later, it was announced that Russia’s Rosatom had purchased 17 percent of Uranium One. Problem solved.

Except it became a bigger problem when the Russian company sought to acquire a controlling interest in Uranium One. That would mean a takeover not only of the Kazakh mines but of the U.S. uranium assets as well. Such a foreign grab requires approval by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, a powerful government tribunal that the secretary of state sits on and heavily influences. Though she had historically postured as a hawk against foreign acquisitions of American assets with critical national-security implications, Secretary Clinton approved the Russian takeover of Uranium One. [National Review, 10/29/16]

Fox’s Elisabeth Hasselbeck: Clinton And Her State Department “Signed Off On The Deal.” Former Fox News host Elisabeth Hasselbeck claimed that Clinton’s State Department was one of the government agencies that “signed off on the deal.” From the June 23, 2015, edition of Fox News’ Fox & Friends:

ED HENRY (CO-HOST): As you can imagine, Peter Schweizer, the author of Clinton Cash, believes that was pointed at him when she said that there was a partisan axe that was dealt here. So he's got an op-ed in the New York Post today.

ELISABETH HASSELBECK (CO-HOST): Yeah, and it said this, quote, “The transfer of 20% of U.S. uranium -- the stuff used to build nuclear weapons -- to Vladimir Putin did not rise to the level of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's time and attention? Beyond being an admission of extreme executive negligence on an issue of utmost national security, Hillary's statement strains credulity to the breaking point for at least three other reasons.” And those three are this: At least nine of the investors who profited from that uranium deal collectively donated $145 million to the Clinton Foundation. OK, one of them happened to go globetrotting with her husband and donated $100 million in pledges there. The second point that would bring up, and his third, is that Clinton said that there were nine government agencies. OK, so she's correct in saying that, who signed off on the deal. She forgets to mention that her State Department was one of the nine and happened to be the only agency whose chief, he states, received $145 million in donations from shareholders in that deal. Who, by the way, brings you back to point one -- who ended up donating to the Clinton Foundation. And by the way, Bill Clinton received $500,000 for a single speech he delivered in Moscow, and she couldn't answer to that either. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 6/23/15]

Trump Previously Cited The Lie During A Campaign Speech

Trump: “Hillary Clinton’s State Department Approved The Transfer Of 20% Of America’s Uranium Holdings To Russia.” During a June 22, 2016, campaign speech, in which he drew heavily from Clinton Cash, Trump asserted that “Hillary Clinton’s State Department approved the transfer of 20% of America’s uranium holdings to Russia.” From the speech:

Hillary Clinton’s State Department approved the transfer of 20% of America’s uranium holdings to Russia, while 9 investors in the deal funneled $145 million to the Clinton Foundation. [DonaldJTrump.com, 6/22/16]

Gorka Has A History Of Engaging With Conspiracy Theories

Gorka Once Accused NY Times And Wash. Post Of “Shilling For The Jihadis.” In an article titled “Shilling For The Jihadis: NYT And WaPo Stand With The Muslim Brotherhood,” Gorka claimed both publications “decided to take sides” in Israel’s short war in Gaza during the summer of 2014 and, “unfortunately, they chose the Islamists.” Gorka asked if the authors of the articles “have read Hamas’ creed of Holy War, why do they, and their papers, support it?” From Breitbart’s July 13, 2014, article:

Just this week, on the same day, the New York Times and the Washington Post simultaneously decided to take sides in the current war in the Middle East. Unfortunately, they chose the Islamists.

On Thursday, as rockets were landing on Israeli suburbs, two pieces were published by the so-called “papers of record,” that sided with the Muslim Brotherhood. Writing in the New York Times, Kareem Fahim focused ostensibly on the Egyptian response to the war between Israel and the terrorist group Hamas. The author focused on what he saw as the lack of Cairo’s response, especially to helping those in Gaza.

[...]

Only one obvious question remains. If Taylor and Fahim have read Hamas’ creed of Holy War, why do they, and their papers, support it? [Breitbart.com, 7/13/14]

Gorka Claimed, “Muslim Brotherhood Overruns” The National Cathedral, When Two Muslim Advocacy Groups Hosted Prayers There. Gorka reacted to prayers at Washington National Cathedral hosted by The Council on Islamic-American Relations (CAIR) and The Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) by writing that the “Muslim Brotherhood” was “overrun[ning]” the National Cathedral, because “if a place of worship is used by Muslims for their prayers, that territory subsequently becomes part of Dar al Islam, sacred muslim land. Forever.” From Breitbart on November 14, 2014:

The Episcopal church leaders who agreed to the host Muslim prayers inside the Washington cathedral probably have no idea what happened a century ago in Asia Minor, or that there even was a Caliph in office at the beginning of the 20th century.

However, we can rest assured that the co-organizers do, for they include the Council on Islamic-American Relations (CAIR), The Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), The Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) and the All-Dulles Area Muslims Society (ADAMS) Center.

Both CAIR and ISNA will be fully aware of the significance of November 14th, seeing as both organizations were declared by a federal court to be unindicted co-conspirators of Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood terror group, in the largest terrorist financing trial in US history.

Those muslims who have a supremacist understanding of their religion, such as members of Al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood – which was recently declared an illegal terrorist organization in the country of its founding, Egypt – have a special regard for historic dates and anniversaries.

[...]

We know that the Episcopal church is in trouble with more conservative believers leaving in great numbers and the remaining adherents not exactly outdoing their Catholic cousins in terms of reproducing the next generation of believers. But I doubt they also understand the finer points of jihadist doctrine, one of which is that if a place of worship is used by Muslims for their prayers, that territory subsequently becomes part of Dar al Islam, sacred muslim land. Forever. [Breitbart.com, 11/14/14]

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