Did the Media Learn Their Lesson About Faux Clinton Scandals?

Just a few months ago, the Berkman Klein Center at Harvard documented how Steve Bannon played the mainstream media in a portion of their report titled, “Dynamics of Network Propaganda: Clinton Foundation Case Study.” We’re about to learn whether or not the media learned their lesson about that as conservatives continue to hype the faux scandal surrounding Clinton, Russia and uranium that I wrote about yesterday.

In case you thought all of that was simply going to go away, both Senator Grassley and Rep. Nunes have announced that their intelligence committees will investigate the matter. In addition, here are some of the latest attempts by conservatives to weigh in on the story.

“It’s time for a special counsel on Hillary Clinton’s Russia Scandal” by David Bossie

“Republicans see tables turned as Dems face fresh Russian controversies” by Fox News

“Why Is The Press Ignoring The Exploding Clinton-Russia-FBI Scandal?” by Investors Business Daily

“James Comey and Robert Mueller Imperil the Rule of Law” by Peter Berkowitz

You might note the author of that first one—David Bossie. He’s the guy who began his career running what Hillary Clinton once called the “vast right wing conspiracy” starting way back during their days in Arkansas. He is now president of the infamous Citizens United organization and has a long history of partnering on projects with Steve Bannon.

But it’s that last one, by Peter Berkowitz, that I’d like to take a look at. It appears on the opinion page of the Wall Street Journal. As the title implies, it is mostly dedicated to using this faux scandal as a way to tarnish Comey and Mueller. You can tell where it’s going by the time you get to the second paragraph and notice all the lies. Commenting on the story from John Solomon about the FBI investigation into a racketeering scheme run by Russian nuclear officials that kicked off this whole affair, Berkowitz writes:

The FBI kept that information from Congress and the public, the Hill reported, even as Hillary Clinton’s State Department in 2010 approved a deal that transferred control of more than 20% of America’s uranium supply to a Russian company. The Hill also reported the FBI had documents showing that during this period Russia engineered the transmission of millions of dollars to the Clinton Foundation.

As a reminder, Clinton’s state department didn’t approve the Russia uranium deal in 2010. It had to be signed off on by nine government agencies and two independent federal nuclear regulators. Also, there are no documents showing that the Clinton Foundation received millions of dollars during the period when the deal was approved. The founder of the uranium company made a sizable contribution to the Clinton Foundation in 2007 and subsequently sold his interests in the company.

That first part about the FBI keeping information about the investigation into the racketeering scheme secret is worth paying attention to. Contrary to what we’ve been hearing, John Solomon is not the first person to report on that investigation. Back in 2015, Joel Schectman was writing about it—in the Wall Street Journal no less. His story from April of that year has some fascinating information that Solomon seems to have missed. Schectman focuses on the same Russian featured in Solomon’s reporting, Vadim Mikerin. Here’s one of the reasons the FBI might have wanted to keep their investigation secret:

Last year, after initially considering arresting Mr. Mikerin, authorities in Maryland decided to confront him with evidence of the alleged kickback scheme and pressure him into “undercover cooperation” against unspecified “high ranking government officials” in Russia, according to a court motion.

In must not have occurred to Solomon that the FBI might not want to go public with an investigation into someone they hoped to turn into an informant on “high ranking government officials” in Russia. Either that, or he knew that including that little tidbit could blow a pretty big hole in the story he wanted to tell.

But it gets even better. Keep in mind that Solomon is attempting to tie this FBI investigation to the deal approved by the U.S. for Russia to purchase controlling interests in the company, Uranium One. Headlines have blared: “Clinton approved the transfer of 20 percent of America’s uranium holdings to Russia.” But when it comes to the FBI investigation, here’s what Schectman reports that it was all about:

Mr. Mikerin, according to court documents, supervised the sale and shipment of Russian uranium to the U.S., where nuclear-power plants used it to generate electricity. Much of that uranium was extracted from decommissioned nuclear warheads under a program designed to keep nuclear devices out of the hands of terrorists or rogue states.

The program, which started in 1993 expired in 2013, removed thousands of nuclear weapons from poorly secured military installations spread across the former Soviet Union and gave Russia a much-needed infusion of cash. At one point the Russian uranium was fueling about 10% of the U.S. electricity supply, according to U.S. Department of Energy data.

Public documents and interviews with people familiar with the matter show that investigators suspected Mr. Mikerin of participating in a broader scheme to conceal kickbacks paid to Rosatom officials by routing them through shell companies and secret accounts in Cyprus, Latvia and Switzerland.

In other words, the only thing the Uranium One story and the FBI investigation have in common is that they both involve Russia and uranium. Otherwise, there is zero connection. I guess Solomon missed all of that as well. Or, he knew that telling the whole story would get in the way of casting aspersions on Clinton, Obama and those responsible for conducting the Russia/Trump investigation.

None of that is likely to stop the stampede of right wingers to this story. All that remains to be seen is whether or not the mainstream media has learned their lesson and will get busy debunking all of this nonsense.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.