A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

No ‘Veto Power’ for Clinton on Uranium Deal

The author of “Clinton Cash” falsely claimed Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State had “veto power” and “could have stopped” Russia from buying a company with extensive uranium mining operations in the U.S. In fact, only the president has such power.

At the time of the sale, Clinton was a member of the Committee on Foreign Investments in the United States, which is required by law to investigate all U.S. transactions that involve a company owned or controlled by a foreign government. Federal guidelines say any one of nine voting members of the committee can object to such a foreign transaction, but the final decision then rests with the president.

“Only the President has the authority to suspend or prohibit a covered transaction,” the guidelines say.

Through a spokeswoman, author Peter Schweizer told us he meant that Clinton could have forced the issue to the president’s desk. But that’s not what he said when he appeared on “Fox News Sunday,” where he discussed the uranium deal and his upcoming book to be released on May 5.

Schweizer’s book — “Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Governments and Businesses Helped Make Bill and Hillary Rich” — focuses on foreign donations to the Clinton Foundation, a nonprofit created by former President Bill Clinton. In his book, Schweizer, a former fellow at the right-leaning Hoover Institution, seeks to link some of those donations to the official actions taken by Clinton when she was Secretary of State.

The New York Times, which received an advance copy of the book, wrote an article April 23 that said the Clinton Foundation failed to publicly disclose millions in contributions it received from investors who stood to profit from the sale of Uranium One, a Canadian-based company with uranium mining stakes in the West, to Rosatom, the Russian nuclear energy agency. The Times said its article “built upon” Schweizer’s reporting.

That sale was approved by the Committee on Foreign Investments in the United States in October 2010, giving Russia control over 20 percent of uranium production in the United States, according to the Times.

The book in general and the Times article in particular have stirred up the 2016 presidential campaign. The Clinton Foundation was forced to acknowledge that it “made mistakes” in failing to disclose some of its donations, and Republicans have questioned Hillary Clinton’s role in the sale.  Mitt Romney said the money donated to the Clinton Foundation “looks like bribery,” and Sen. Rand Paul called for an investigation.

But Schweizer and the Times presented no evidence that the donations influenced Clinton’s official actions.

The fact is, Clinton was one of nine voting members on the foreign investments committee, which also includes the secretaries of the Treasury, Defense, Homeland Security, Commerce and Energy, the attorney general, and representatives from two White House offices — the United States Trade Representative and the Office of Science and Technology Policy. (Separately, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission needed to approve (and did approve) the transfer of two uranium recovery licenses as part of the sale.)

Chris Wallace, host of “Fox News Sunday,” made that point when he questioned Schweizer about his lack of evidence connecting the donations to the uranium deal. (Fox News was among the media outlets that received an advance copy of his book.) Schweizer made the counterargument — again without any evidence — that the investors bought her silence by making contributions to the Clinton Foundation.

Schweizer speculated that investors were worried about Clinton’s history of opposing the sale of “critical assets” in the U.S., citing her opposition as a senator to the 2006 sale of six U.S. ports to Dubai Ports World, a state-owned business in the United Arab Emirates.

Wallace, April 26: Nine separate agencies and they [Clinton campaign officials] point out there’s no hard evidence, and you don’t cite any in the book that Hillary Clinton took direct action, was involved in any way in approving as one of nine agencies the sale of the company?

Schweizer: Well, here’s what’s important to keep in mind: it was one of nine agencies, but any one of those agencies had veto power. So, she could have stopped the deal.  So, what’s interesting about this, of all those nine agencies, who was the most hawkish on these types of issues? Hillary Clinton. She had a reputation going back to the Dubai Ports deal.

But Schweizer is wrong when he says that Clinton had “veto power” and “could have stopped the deal.” At best, she could have forced the president to make a decision.

The committee, which is known by its acronym CFIUS, can approve a sale, but it cannot stop a sale. Only the president can do that, and only if the committee recommends or “any member of CFIUS recommends suspension or prohibition of the transaction,” according to guidelines issued by the Treasury Department in December 2008 after the department adopted its final rule a month earlier.

Treasury Department, Dec. 8, 2008: Only the President has the authority to suspend or prohibit a covered transaction. Pursuant to section 6(c) of Executive Order 11858, CFIUS refers a covered transaction to the President if CFIUS or any member of CFIUS recommends suspension or prohibition of the transaction, or if CFIUS otherwise seeks a Presidential determination on the transaction.

Even the president cannot prohibit a transaction without “credible evidence” that the “foreign interest exercising control might take action that threatens to impair the national security,” according to the regulation.

We emailed Schweizer’s publicist with links to the CRS report and the regulation that governs the committee’s work. Schweizer responded through the publicist: “By veto I mean halt the deal and advance their concerns to the President.” He also noted that Clinton was the only committee member who had a family foundation that received donations from the investors in the uranium deal.

But Schweizer is trafficking in speculation.

Very little is known about the Uranium One-Rosatom deal or Clinton’s role in it. That’s because the law has “strong confidentiality requirements,” as Treasury explains on its site. “By law, information filed with CFIUS is subject to strong confidentiality requirements that prohibit disclosure to the public. Accordingly, CFIUS does not disclose whether parties to any transaction have filed notices with CFIUS, nor does CFIUS disclose the results of any review,” Treasury says. “When a transaction is referred to the President, however, the decision of the President is announced publicly.”

The Clinton campaign told the Times that generally these matters did not reach the secretary’s level, so she may not have been involved at all. According to the Times, Jose Fernandez, a former assistant secretary of state, represented the department on the committee. He told the Times: “Mrs. Clinton never intervened with me on any C.F.I.U.S. matter.”

Schweizer raises legitimate questions about the Clinton Foundation and its donations. He simply goes too far when he says Clinton had “veto power” and “could have stopped” the uranium deal.

— Eugene Kiely