While it’s quite legitimate to be concerned about Russian influence in America politics, its rather remarkable to watch the dizzying pace by which people who in the past have expressed little concern about the matter are now suddenly obsessed with it.
There has been plenty of finger pointing at those in President Donald Trump’s orbit about their business ties to Russia.
One time Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort was an adviser to the pro-Russian president of the Ukraine and involved in business ventures with pro-Kremlin oligarchs.
Former Trump advisor Carter Page had energy deals involving Russian companies.
Former National Security Adviser General Michael Flynn gave a nicely paid speech in Moscow as a private citizen and was less than complete in explaining his conversations with Russian officials. And then there is the simple fact that Attorney General (former senator) Jeff Session, while a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee communicated with the Russian Ambassador as other senators do fairly regularly.
While investigating and exploring these relationships is certainly a legitimate exercise, those pushing the narrative of troubling ties to Russia lose all credibility by wholly ignoring the far deeper and more troubling relationships that the Clintons and their closest aides have maintained with Russian government officials for years, while they were in public office.
Unlike the revelations so far concerning Russian ties in the Trump orbit, the Clinton deals involved large sums of money and enormous favors that benefitted Russian interests.
Consider the fact that Bill and Hillary Clinton received large sums of money directly and indirectly from Russian officials while Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State.
Bill Clinton was paid a cool $500,000 (well above his average fee) for a speech in Moscow in 2010. Who footed the bill? An investment firm in Moscow called Renaissance Capital, which boasts deep ties to Russian intelligence. The Clinton Foundation itself took money from Russian officials and Putin-connected oligarchs. They took donations from:
— Viktor Vekselberg, a Putin confidant who gave through his company, Renova Group.
— Andrey Vavilov, a former Russian government official who was Chairman of SuperOx, a research company that was part of the “nuclear Cluster” at the Russian government’s Skolkovo research facility;
— Elena Baturina, the wife of the former Mayor of Moscow, who apparently gave them money through JSC Inteco, an entity that she controls.
The Clinton Foundation also scored $145 million in donations from 9 shareholders in a Canadian uranium company called Uranium One that was sold to the Russian government in 2010.
I described the deal in my book “Clinton Cash,” and the account was confirmed by the New York Times in a 4,000 word front page article.
The deal required cabinet-level federal approval, including Hillary Clinton’s State Department. The deal allowed Rosatom, the Russian State Nuclear Agency, to buy assets that amounted to 20 percent of American uranium. Rosatom, by the way controls the Russian nuclear arsenal.
The flow of money to the Clintons is troubling because some of those donations were hidden and not disclosed by the Clintons. President Obama had required that the Clinton Foundation disclose all contributions as a condition of Hillary Clinton becoming Secretary of State. (They ignored that agreement in this case.) We uncovered those donations by going through Canadian tax records.
Everyone got what they wanted in this deal: the Canadian investors made a nice profit; the Russians got a strategic asset; and the Clinton Foundation cashed in a lot of money.
Hillary Clinton says she was not involved in the decision to approve the sale of Uranium One. As proof, the Clinton campaign in 2015 trotted out her former aide, Assistant Secretary of State Fernandez, to say publicly that we should take his word for it that she was not involved in approving that deal. But as we now know from the leaked Podesta emails, Fernandez professed that he would “like to do all I can to support Secretary Clinton” in the campaign, and received help from Podesta, including an appointment to the board of directors of the Center for American Progress where Podesta was President. That raises questions about the veracity of his comments.
It seems strange that while some in Congress are eager to investigate the activities of General Mike Flynn and his contacts with Russia, they have no interest in looking into a transaction in which the Clinton Foundation received a whopping $145 million. It’s that kind of inconsistency that saps those raising these issues of any credibility.
But beyond the Clintons themselves, there is a curious and troubling case of one of their closest aides, John Podesta. He served as the chairman of the Hillary Clinton campaign in 2016. Podesta didn’t just have conversations with Russian officials. He went into business with the Russian government while he was advising Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State.
In 2011 John Podesta joined the executive board of a small energy company called Joule Unlimited. Two months after he joined the board, the Russian government invested one billion rubles (approximately $35 million) into the company. The funds came via a Russian government investment fund called Rusnano. What is Rusnano? It is a fund started in 2007 by Vladimir Putin and has been described by Russian Education and Science Minister Andrei Fursenko as “Putin’s Child.”
According to State Department cables leaked via WikiLeaks, technology venture funds like Rusnano were considered a national security concern by U.S. officials because they could serve a “dual use” in their investments. That is, their investments in civilian technologies could have a military application.
In short, John Podesta was business partners with the Russian government and Vladimir Putin. When John Podesta went to the White House in January 2014 to serve as counselor to President Obama, he failed to disclose his board membership in one of the Joule entities on his financial disclosure form.
According to the Podesta emails, Podesta transferred his 75,000 shares in the company to an LLC controlled by his family. But as the Wall Street Journal notes, the Podesta emails reveal he remained actively engaged in company business after that fact.
None of the individuals in Trump’s orbit who have Russian ties—Paul Manafort, Carter Page, and General Mike Flynn—are serving in the Trump White House.
Had Hillary Clinton won the presidency, it’s very likely that John Podesta would have played a central role.
One can only wonder if those now raising these issues would have cared.
I doubt it.
There are legitimate questions about whether campaign officials or government officials are doing deals with the Russians and how it is affecting American national security. But the selective take that most have on this issue does a disservice to the truth, and to the country.
Peter Schweizer is the president of the Government Accountability Institute and the author of Clinton Cash (Harper Collins 2015).