Trump’s bogus Clinton allegations assault the rule of law
By Norman Eisen and Fred Wertheimer | Published here on CNN Opinion
(CNN) – In recent weeks, President Trump and his allies have been desperately seeking to divert attention away from the Russia/Trump investigation by ginning up an alternative review of a Democratic scandal. The latest effort came in response to reports that Hillary Clinton had gained control over the Democratic National Committee during the primaries by entering into a joint fundraising agreement with it.
Like Trump’s recent calls for an investigation of Uranium One, this demand is nonsense — and his push for criminal investigations of his adversaries is a shocking violation of our democratic norms.
Let’s begin with the “Tweeter-in-Chief’s” response on Thursday to the claim that Clinton used a joint fundraising committee to control the DNC during the presidential primaries: “This is real collusion and dishonesty. Major violation of Campaign Finance Laws and Money Laundering – where is our Justice Department?”
The reality is that there was no violation of campaign finance or money-laundering laws here and there is no basis for a Justice Department investigation. The law allows presidential candidates to set up joint fundraising committees with their parties. Examples include Trump Victory, a joint fundraising committee set up by Trump with the RNC that raised and spent over $100 million for his presidential race. If President Trump thinks this is a crime, then perhaps he forgot that he did it, too.
That is not to say that the DNC should not review the allegations. As a political matter, parties are supposed to remain even-handed during primaries. But even assuming the claims are accurate (and we note they are contested) that is an issue for political party governance, not for the Justice Department.
It would be bad enough if this were the only example of President Trump trying to go on the offensive by pushing an alternative and baseless Democratic or Clinton scandal — but it is not. Before today, his diversion campaign centered on a seven-year old transaction involving the sale of a portion of Uranium One, a Canadian uranium company, to Rosatom, the Russian state-owned nuclear energy company.
The President has obsessively tweeted about the need for investigating Hillary Clinton for wrongly making the sale happen, claiming that it resulted in the United States turning over uranium to Russia. Trump has been touting this since the campaign trail, where he said that Clinton “gave up 20 percent of America’s uranium supply to Russia” and “You know what people do with Uranium, don’t you? It’s called nuclear.”
His congressional allies in both houses have announced their committees will investigate this matter. Chief of Staff John Kelly has also stood, saluted and called for a Mueller-type criminal investigation, based upon his boss’ claims. The facts get in the way.
First, the sale of the Canadian company Uranium One needed US approval because of the company’s rights to mine uranium in the United States. It was unanimously approved by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), a group consisting of nine government agencies led by the Treasury Department and including the State Department.
The sale was also approved by the Nuclear Regulatory Agency. A representative of the State Department cast the department’s vote for approval. The former assistant secretary assigned to the foreign investment committee at the time, Jose Fernandez, said that “Mrs. Clinton never intervened with me on any C.F.I.U.S matter.”
Second, President Trump’s claims that this sale provided Russia with the uranium to use are false. The only right that Rosatom had was to mine the uranium in the United States. The Russia agency had no right and has never been given an export license to take the uranium out of the United States.
Third, the original owner of Uranium One, Frank Giustra, gave and pledged more than $100 million to the Clinton Foundation (by way of the Clinton Giustra Enterprise Partnership) as claimed. But Giustra had sold his interests in the company in 2007, three years before the approval occurred and before Hillary Clinton ever became secretary of state.
Fourth, Uranium One controlled 20% of US uranium production capacity, not supply, when the deal was approved in 2010. Since then additional licenses have been granted to produce uranium and Uranium One’s production has shrunk to 2.3 percent of US production in 2016.
According to The Washington Post’s Fact Checker analysis, “Given that Uranium One’s production is only 2 percent of an already small total US production — not 20 percent — the overwrought claims that Clinton “gave away” 20 percent of the US nuclear supply or that Russia controls that much US uranium are simply absurd.”
The latest mutation of the Uranium One farce comes in the form of a resolution that was filed on Friday by three House Republicans that says special counsel Robert Mueller has to recuse himself from the Russia investigation. Mueller was head of the FBI when the sale of Uranium One was approved — a perfectly legal sale. The real grounds: one more effort to divert attention from and obfuscate the Mueller investigation.
Thus, we end up with President Trump, White House Chief of Staff Kelly and various congressional allies misusing their office to pursue blatantly partisan investigations of matters in which there is no evidence of legal violations. This undermines the special counsel’s investigation and misleads the American people.
This is not how we do things in a democracy, and the American people are rightly disapproving — Trump’s favorability ratings are at historic lows. Citizens will not stand for it should the President go beyond calling for bogus competing investigations and try to end the one special counsel Mueller is conducting.
That will produce a firestorm the likes of which has not been seen in this country since President Richard Nixon had special prosecutor Archibald Cox fired — and we all know how that ultimately ended.
Editor’s note: Former Ambassador Norman L. Eisen, a CNN contributor, is a senior fellow at The Brookings Institution and served as President Obama’s “Ethics Czar” from 2009-11. Fred Wertheimer is the founder and president of Democracy 21, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that seeks to promote government accountability and integrity. The opinions expressed in this commentary are theirs.