by Patrick B. McGuigan
Oklahoma City – In American journalism, a lot can happen in a week.
On Tuesday (October 17), a pair of reporters for The Hill wrote this:
“Before the Obama administration approved a controversial deal in 2010 giving Moscow control of a large swath of American uranium, the FBI had gathered substantial evidence that Russian nuclear industry officials were engaged in bribery, kickbacks, extortion and money laundering designed to grow Vladimir Putin’s atomic energy business inside the United States, according to government documents and interviews….[Federal agents] obtained an eyewitness account — backed by documents — indicating Russian nuclear officials had routed millions of dollars to the U.S. designed to benefit former President Bill Clinton’s charitable foundation during the time Secretary of State Hillary Clinton served on a government body that provided a favorable decision to Moscow, sources told The Hill.”
When I teach, I encourage young writers/students not to write in English sentences that read like German – running on for 58 words or more. When I am in a hurry, I violate my ownadmonition to write Hemmingway-like prose that is efficient, and gets the job done.
Still, the two sentences from The Hill probably had to read as they did, because they summarized murky events which, taken together, could be one of the major news stories of 2017.
Or maybe not.
A bare outline of the Uranium One deal (as it is now known, taking the name of the Russian-controlled company that benefited) was first reported in 2015, in The New York Times. The Times is still America’s most influential newspaper, and its reporters called attention to the timing of Clinton Foundation contributions coinciding with the green light for purchase of U.S. uranium.
However, The Times’s reporters probably did not know, as was also disclosed this past week, that a key witness in an FBI investigation of the accord had been pressured to keep silent about his/her knowledge of the whole situation – information broader than what the Times’ reporters knew two years ago.
The attorney for that person is Victoria Toensing, a past U.S. Justice Department official who, back in the Reagan days, was known for her moderate to liberal views on social issues. She is a serious person, and its sounds like the knowledge possessed by her client is … serious. (http://www.newsweek.com/obama-and-clinton-russia-probe-under-investigation-senate-republicans-688758) (Disclosure: Vicki’s husband is Joe diGenova, former U.S. Attorney in the nation’s capital. Although they are old friends, we have not spoken in many years.)
The Washington Post’s Callum Borchers, who writes a New Age (my description) blend of news and commentary for the nation’s second most influential newspaper, credited the Hill reporting, saying it “has, indeed, added a layer of intrigue to the sale of a uranium mining company to Russia’s atomic energy agency, which was approved by the Clinton-led State Department and eight other U.S. government agencies. But the latest developments, as they relate to Clinton, are not as explosive as certain news outlets — eager to draw attention away from reporting on President Trump and Russia — would have you believe.”
If The Post still deserves the benefit of doubt, Collums’ words are a rational cautionary note for analysts on the conservative end of the American spectrum, people who are clearly reading every word of this breaking story.
And, speaking of the story in the voice of John Solomon and Alison Spann, The Hill reporters who may (or may not) be on their way to a Pulitzer Prize, there’s more:
“As he prepared to collect a $500,000 payday in Moscow in 2010, Bill Clinton sought clearance from the State Department to meet with a key board director of the Russian nuclear energy firm Rosatom — which at the time needed the Obama administration’s approval for a controversial uranium deal, government records show.
“Arkady Dvorkovich, a top aide to then-Russian President Dmitri Medvedev and one of the highest-ranking government officials to serve on Rosatom’s board of supervisors, was listed on a May 14, 2010, email as one of 15 Russians the former president wanted to meet during a late June 2010 trip, the documents show.”
Ultimately, the State Department apparently never answered Clinton’s question (or request for permission) directly, although one top Obama official asked another, “What’s the deal w this?” As for former President Clinton, he did not meet with Medvedev. Instead, he had a meeting with Vladimir Putin during his sojourn in Moscow.
Touching on the first couple of days of this fresh reporting, The Washington Post’s Collums wrote, “It is virtually impossible to view these donations as anything other than an attempt to curry favor with Clinton. Donations alone do not, however, prove that Clinton was actually influenced by money to vote in favor of the Uranium One sale — or to overlook the FBI investigation. Again, there is no evidence that she even knew about the investigation.
“Similarly, it is virtually impossible to view foreign dignitaries’ habit of lodging at Trump’s Washington hotel as anything other than an attempt to curry favor with the president. Reservations and room service alone do not, however, prove that Trump’s foreign policy is actually influenced by money.”
He concluded, “Some people willing to give Trump the benefit of the doubt are denying Clinton the same courtesy.”
OK, that’s certainly fair. But paying attention, even while extending common courtesy (perhaps it is already uncommon courtesy) means watching things as they actually unfold.
Not every important story in American journalism is first vetted by writers for The New York Times or The Washington Post.
The Hill is a fine newspaper. Stories there have sometimes brought a smile to the faces of Trump Administration officials. But, on other days, not so much.
Andrew C. McCarthy is a former Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York (i.e. The Big Apple). He is now a columnist for National Review, a leading voice for American conservatism. Most of NR’s writers are not particularly big fans of the Trump Administration, although some are. (Among conservatives, it’s that intellectual diversity thing, you know.)
Mr. McCarthy has been an “equal opportunity offender,” if you will – crediting President Donald Trump on occasion, smacking him at other times.
Here is how McCarthy led his latest essay for NR, a lengthy work in which he walked through available information, as of early this weekend:
“Let’s put the Uranium One scandal in perspective: The cool half-million bucks the Putin regime funneled to Bill Clinton was five times the amount it spent on those Facebook ads — the ones the media-Democrat complex ludicrously suggests swung the 2016 presidential election to Donald Trump…. Here’s the kicker: The Uranium One scandal is not only, or even principally, a Clinton scandal. It is an Obama-administration scandal.”
Concerning this story, readers may incline toward the Collums perspective, or the McCarthy perspective, or some other point of view, as they deem best. This is (still) a free country.
As for this writer, the late Paul M. Weyrich sagely advised me, concerning one controversy after another during the 1980s, “In every big story, there is always more than meets the eye.”
This week, we’ve learned a little of the “more” in this particular story.
Soon, no doubt, “gate” will be added to stories and commentaries on this matter, as is always the case since those days of ’yore when the Washington Post regularly covered itself in journalistic glory. But that bad habit of headline writers may obfuscate more than it clarifies.
Not every controversial story is a Watergate. Still, this one has interesting contours.
Uranium One is a real story. The ending is not yet written. So, I am paying attention.
And while paying attention, I hope at least my readers can give each other some benefit of the doubt as we ask that same question one of Obama’s employees typed seven years ago: What’s the deal with this?
You know: It’s a who, what, when, where, why and how sort of question.