Cash Flowed to Clinton Foundation Amid Russian Uranium Deal
The headline on the website Pravda trumpeted President Vladimir
V. Putin’s latest coup, its nationalistic fervor recalling an
era when its precursor served as the official mouthpiece of the
Kremlin: “Russian Nuclear Energy Conquers the World.”
The article, in January 2013, detailed how the Russian atomic
energy agency, Rosatom, had taken over a Canadian company with
uranium-mining stakes stretching from Central Asia to the
American West. The deal made Rosatom one of the world’s largest
uranium producers and brought Mr. Putin closer to his goal of
controlling much of the global uranium supply chain.
But the untold story behind that story is one that involves not
just the Russian president, but also a former American president
and a woman who would like to be the next one.
At the heart of the tale are several men, leaders of the
Canadian mining industry, who have been major donors to the
charitable endeavors of former President Bill Clinton and his
family. Members of that group built, financed and eventually
sold off to the Russians a company that would become known as
Beyond mines in Kazakhstan that are among the most lucrative in
the world, the sale gave the Russians control of one-fifth of
all uranium production capacity in the United States. Since
uranium is considered a strategic asset, with implications for
national security, the deal had to be approved by a committee
composed of representatives from a number of United States
government agencies. Among the agencies that eventually signed
off was the State Department, then headed by Mr. Clinton’s wife,
Hillary Rodham Clinton.
As the Russians gradually assumed control of Uranium One in
three separate transactions from 2009 to 2013, Canadian records
show, a flow of cash made its way to the Clinton Foundation.
Uranium One’s chairman used his family foundation to make four
donations totaling $2.35 million. Those contributions were not
publicly disclosed by the Clintons, despite an agreement Mrs.
Clinton had struck with the Obama White House to publicly
identify all donors. Other people with ties to the company made
donations as well.
And shortly after the Russians announced their intention to
acquire a majority stake in Uranium One, Mr. Clinton received
$500,000 for a Moscow speech from a Russian investment bank with
links to the Kremlin that was promoting Uranium One stock.
At the time, both Rosatom and the United States government made
promises intended to ease concerns about ceding control of the
company’s assets to the Russians. Those promises have been
repeatedly broken, records show.
The New York Times’s examination of the Uranium One deal is
based on dozens of interviews, as well as a review of public
records and securities filings in Canada, Russia and the United
States. Some of the connections between Uranium One and the
Clinton Foundation were unearthed by Peter Schweizer, a former
fellow at the right-leaning Hoover Institution and author of the
forthcoming book “Clinton Cash.” Mr. Schweizer provided a
preview of material in the book to The Times, which scrutinized
his information and built upon it with its own reporting.
Whether the donations played any role in the approval of the
uranium deal is unknown. But the episode underscores the special
ethical challenges presented by the Clinton Foundation, headed
by a former president who relied heavily on foreign cash to
accumulate $250 million in assets even as his wife helped steer
American foreign policy as secretary of state, presiding over
decisions with the potential to benefit the foundation’s donors.
In a statement, Brian Fallon, a spokesman for Mrs. Clinton’s
presidential campaign, said no one “has ever produced a shred of
evidence supporting the theory that Hillary Clinton ever took
action as secretary of state to support the interests of donors
to the Clinton Foundation.” He emphasized that multiple United
States agencies, as well as the Canadian government, had signed
off on the deal and that, in general, such matters were handled
at a level below the secretary. “To suggest the State
Department, under then-Secretary Clinton, exerted undue
influence in the U.S. government’s review of the sale of Uranium
One is utterly baseless,” he added.
American political campaigns are barred from accepting foreign
donations. But foreigners may give to foundations in the United
States. In the days since Mrs. Clinton announced her candidacy
for president, the Clinton Foundation has announced changes
meant to quell longstanding concerns about potential conflicts
of interest in such donations; it has limited donations from
foreign governments, with many, like Russia’s, barred from
giving to all but its health care initiatives. That policy stops
short of a more stringent agreement between Mrs. Clinton and the
Obama administration that was in effect while she was secretary
Either way, the Uranium One deal highlights the limits of such
prohibitions. The foundation will continue to accept
contributions from foreign sources whose interests, like Uranium
One’s, may overlap with those of foreign governments, some of
which may be at odds with the United States.
When the Uranium One deal was approved, the geopolitical
backdrop was far different from today’s. The Obama
administration was seeking to “reset” strained relations with
Russia. The deal was strategically important to Mr. Putin, who
shortly after the Americans gave their blessing sat down for a
staged interview with Rosatom’s chief executive, Sergei
Kiriyenko. “Few could have imagined in the past that we would
own 20 percent of U.S. reserves,” Mr. Kiriyenko told Mr. Putin.
Now, after Russia’s annexation of Crimea and aggression in
Ukraine, the Moscow-Washington relationship is devolving toward
Cold War levels, a point several experts made in evaluating a
deal so beneficial to Mr. Putin, a man known to use energy
resources to project power around the world.
“Should we be concerned? Absolutely,” said Michael McFaul, who
served under Mrs. Clinton as the American ambassador to Russia
but said he had been unaware of the Uranium One deal until asked
about it. “Do we want Putin to have a monopoly on this? Of
course we don’t. We don’t want to be dependent on Putin for
anything in this climate.”
A Seat at the Table
The path to a Russian acquisition of American uranium deposits
began in 2005 in Kazakhstan, where the Canadian mining financier
Frank Giustra orchestrated his first big uranium deal, with Mr.
Clinton at his side.
The two men had flown aboard Mr. Giustra’s private jet to
Almaty, Kazakhstan, where they dined with the authoritarian
president, Nursultan A. Nazarbayev. Mr. Clinton handed the
Kazakh president a propaganda coup when he expressed support for
Mr. Nazarbayev’s bid to head an international elections
monitoring group, undercutting American foreign policy and
criticism of Kazakhstan’s poor human rights record by, among
others, his wife, then a senator.
Within days of the visit, Mr. Giustra’s fledgling company,
UrAsia Energy Ltd., signed a preliminary deal giving it stakes
in three uranium mines controlled by the state-run uranium
If the Kazakh deal was a major victory, UrAsia did not wait long
before resuming the hunt. In 2007, it merged with Uranium One, a
South African company with assets in Africa and Australia, in
what was described as a $3.5 billion transaction. The new
company, which kept the Uranium One name, was controlled by
UrAsia investors including Ian Telfer, a Canadian who became
chairman. Through a spokeswoman, Mr. Giustra, whose personal
stake in the deal was estimated at about $45 million, said he
sold his stake in 2007.
Soon, Uranium One began to snap up companies with assets in the
United States. In April 2007, it announced the purchase of a
uranium mill in Utah and more than 38,000 acres of uranium
exploration properties in four Western states, followed quickly
by the acquisition of the Energy Metals Corporation and its
uranium holdings in Wyoming, Texas and Utah. That deal made
clear that Uranium One was intent on becoming “a powerhouse in
the United States uranium sector with the potential to become
the domestic supplier of choice for U.S. utilities,” the company
Still, the company’s story was hardly front-page news in the
United States — until early 2008, in the midst of Mrs. Clinton’s
failed presidential campaign, when The Times published an
article revealing the 2005 trip’s link to Mr. Giustra’s
Kazakhstan mining deal. It also reported that several months
later, Mr. Giustra had donated $31.3 million to Mr. Clinton’s
(In a statement issued after this article appeared online, Mr.
Giustra said he was “extremely proud” of his charitable work
with Mr. Clinton, and he urged the media to focus on poverty,
health care and “the real challenges of the world.”)
Though the 2008 article quoted the former head of Kazatomprom,
Moukhtar Dzhakishev, as saying that the deal required government
approval and was discussed at a dinner with the president, Mr.
Giustra insisted that it was a private transaction, with no need
for Mr. Clinton’s influence with Kazakh officials. He described
his relationship with Mr. Clinton as motivated solely by a
shared interest in philanthropy.
As if to underscore the point, five months later Mr. Giustra
held a fund-raiser for the Clinton Giustra Sustainable Growth
Initiative, a project aimed at fostering progressive
environmental and labor practices in the natural resources
industry, to which he had pledged $100 million. The star-studded
gala, at a conference center in Toronto, featured performances
by Elton John and Shakira and celebrities like Tom Cruise, John
Travolta and Robin Williams encouraging contributions from the
many so-called F.O.F.s — Friends of Frank — in attendance, among
them Mr. Telfer. In all, the evening generated $16 million in
pledges, according to an article in The Globe and Mail.
“None of this would have been possible if Frank Giustra didn’t
have a remarkable combination of caring and modesty, of vision
and energy and iron determination,” Mr. Clinton told those
gathered, adding: “I love this guy, and you should, too.”
But what had been a string of successes was about to hit a speed
Arrest and Progress
By June 2009, a little over a year after the star-studded
evening in Toronto, Uranium One’s stock was in free-fall, down
40 percent. Mr. Dzhakishev, the head of Kazatomprom, had just
been arrested on charges that he illegally sold uranium deposits
to foreign companies, including at least some of those won by
Mr. Giustra’s UrAsia and now owned by Uranium One.
Publicly, the company tried to reassure shareholders. Its chief
executive, Jean Nortier, issued a confident statement calling
the situation a “complete misunderstanding.” He also
contradicted Mr. Giustra’s contention that the uranium deal had
not required government blessing. “When you do a transaction in
Kazakhstan, you need the government’s approval,” he said, adding
that UrAsia had indeed received that approval.
But privately, Uranium One officials were worried they could
lose their joint mining ventures. American diplomatic cables
made public by WikiLeaks also reflect concerns that Mr.
Dzhakishev’s arrest was part of a Russian power play for control
of Kazakh uranium assets.
At the time, Russia was already eying a stake in Uranium One,
Rosatom company documents show. Rosatom officials say they were
seeking to acquire mines around the world because Russia lacks
sufficient domestic reserves to meet its own industry needs.
It was against this backdrop that the Vancouver-based Uranium
One pressed the American Embassy in Kazakhstan, as well as
Canadian diplomats, to take up its cause with Kazakh officials,
according to the American cables.
“We want more than a statement to the press,” Paul Clarke, a
Uranium One executive vice president, told the embassy’s energy
officer on June 10, the officer reported in a cable. “That is
simply chitchat.” What the company needed, Mr. Clarke said, was
official written confirmation that the licenses were valid.
The American Embassy ultimately reported to the secretary of
state, Mrs. Clinton. Though the Clarke cable was copied to her,
it was given wide circulation, and it is unclear if she would
have read it; the Clinton campaign did not address questions
about the cable.
What is clear is that the embassy acted, with the cables showing
that the energy officer met with Kazakh officials to discuss the
issue on June 10 and 11.
Three days later, a wholly owned subsidiary of Rosatom completed
a deal for 17 percent of Uranium One. And within a year, the
Russian government substantially upped the ante, with a generous
offer to shareholders that would give it a 51 percent
controlling stake. But first, Uranium One had to get the
American government to sign off on the deal.
The Power to Say No
When a company controlled by the Chinese government sought a 51
percent stake in a tiny Nevada gold mining operation in 2009, it
set off a secretive review process in Washington, where
officials raised concerns primarily about the mine’s proximity
to a military installation, but also about the potential for
minerals at the site, including uranium, to come under Chinese
control. The officials killed the deal.
Such is the power of the Committee on Foreign Investment in the
United States. The committee comprises some of the most powerful
members of the cabinet, including the attorney general, the
secretaries of the Treasury, Defense, Homeland Security,
Commerce and Energy, and the secretary of state. They are
charged with reviewing any deal that could result in foreign
control of an American business or asset deemed important to
The national security issue at stake in the Uranium One deal was
not primarily about nuclear weapons proliferation; the United
States and Russia had for years cooperated on that front, with
Russia sending enriched fuel from decommissioned warheads to be
used in American nuclear power plants in return for raw uranium.
Instead, it concerned American dependence on foreign uranium
sources. While the United States gets one-fifth of its
electrical power from nuclear plants, it produces only around 20
percent of the uranium it needs, and most plants have only 18 to
36 months of reserves, according to Marin Katusa, author of “The
Colder War: How the Global Energy Trade Slipped From America’s
“The Russians are easily winning the uranium war, and nobody’s
talking about it,” said Mr. Katusa, who explores the
implications of the Uranium One deal in his book. “It’s not just
a domestic issue but a foreign policy issue, too.”
When ARMZ, an arm of Rosatom, took its first 17 percent stake in
Uranium One in 2009, the two parties signed an agreement, found
in securities filings, to seek the foreign investment
committee’s review. But it was the 2010 deal, giving the
Russians a controlling 51 percent stake, that set off alarm
bells. Four members of the House of Representatives signed a
letter expressing concern. Two more began pushing legislation to
kill the deal.
Senator John Barrasso, a Republican from Wyoming, where Uranium
One’s largest American operation was, wrote to President Obama,
saying the deal “would give the Russian government control over
a sizable portion of America’s uranium production capacity.”
“Equally alarming,” Mr. Barrasso added, “this sale gives ARMZ a
significant stake in uranium mines in Kazakhstan.”
Uranium One’s shareholders were also alarmed, and were “afraid
of Rosatom as a Russian state giant,” Sergei Novikov, a company
spokesman, recalled in an interview. He said Rosatom’s chief,
Mr. Kiriyenko, sought to reassure Uranium One investors,
promising that Rosatom would not break up the company and would
keep the same management, including Mr. Telfer, the chairman.
Another Rosatom official said publicly that it did not intend to
increase its investment beyond 51 percent, and that it
envisioned keeping Uranium One a public company
American nuclear officials, too, seemed eager to assuage fears.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission wrote to Mr. Barrasso assuring
him that American uranium would be preserved for domestic use,
regardless of who owned it.
“In order to export uranium from the United States, Uranium One
Inc. or ARMZ would need to apply for and obtain a specific NRC
license authorizing the export of uranium for use as reactor
fuel,” the letter said.
Still, the ultimate authority to approve or reject the Russian
acquisition rested with the cabinet officials on the foreign
investment committee, including Mrs. Clinton — whose husband was
collecting millions in donations from people associated with
Before Mrs. Clinton could assume her post as secretary of state,
the White House demanded that she sign a memorandum of
understanding placing limits on the activities of her husband’s
foundation. To avoid the perception of conflicts of interest,
beyond the ban on foreign government donations, the foundation
was required to publicly disclose all contributors.
To judge from those disclosures — which list the contributions
in ranges rather than precise amounts — the only Uranium One
official to give to the Clinton Foundation was Mr. Telfer, the
chairman, and the amount was relatively small: no more than
$250,000, and that was in 2007, before talk of a Rosatom deal
But a review of tax records in Canada, where Mr. Telfer has a
family charity called the Fernwood Foundation, shows that he
donated millions of dollars more, during and after the critical
time when the foreign investment committee was reviewing his
deal with the Russians. With the Russians offering a special
dividend, shareholders like Mr. Telfer stood to profit.
His donations through the Fernwood Foundation included $1
million reported in 2009, the year his company appealed to the
American Embassy to help it keep its mines in Kazakhstan;
$250,000 in 2010, the year the Russians sought majority control;
as well as $600,000 in 2011 and $500,000 in 2012. Mr. Telfer
said that his donations had nothing to do with his business
dealings, and that he had never discussed Uranium One with Mr.
or Mrs. Clinton. He said he had given the money because he
wanted to support Mr. Giustra’s charitable endeavors with Mr.
Clinton. “Frank and I have been friends and business partners
for almost 20 years,” he said.
The Clinton campaign left it to the foundation to reply to
questions about the Fernwood donations; the foundation did not
provide a response.
Mr. Telfer’s undisclosed donations came in addition to between
$1.3 million and $5.6 million in contributions, which were
reported, from a constellation of people with ties to Uranium
One or UrAsia, the company that originally acquired Uranium
One’s most valuable asset: the Kazakh mines. Without those
assets, the Russians would have had no interest in the deal: “It
wasn’t the goal to buy the Wyoming mines. The goal was to
acquire the Kazakh assets, which are very good,” Mr. Novikov,
the Rosatom spokesman, said in an interview.
Amid this influx of Uranium One-connected money, Mr. Clinton was
invited to speak in Moscow in June 2010, the same month Rosatom
struck its deal for a majority stake in Uranium One.
The $500,000 fee — among Mr. Clinton’s highest — was paid by
Renaissance Capital, a Russian investment bank with ties to the
Kremlin that has invited world leaders, including Tony Blair,
the former British prime minister, to speak at its investor
Renaissance Capital analysts talked up Uranium One’s stock,
assigning it a “buy” rating and saying in a July 2010 research
report that it was “the best play” in the uranium markets. In
addition, Renaissance Capital turned up that same year as a
major donor, along with Mr. Giustra and several companies linked
to Uranium One or UrAsia, to a small medical charity in Colorado
run by a friend of Mr. Giustra’s. In a newsletter to supporters,
the friend credited Mr. Giustra with helping get donations from
“businesses around the world.”
Renaissance Capital would not comment on the genesis of Mr.
Clinton’s speech to an audience that included leading Russian
officials, or on whether it was connected to the Rosatom deal.
According to a Russian government news service, Mr. Putin
personally thanked Mr. Clinton for speaking.
A person with knowledge of the Clinton Foundation’s fund-raising
operation, who requested anonymity to speak candidly about it,
said that for many people, the hope is that money will in fact
buy influence: “Why do you think they are doing it — because
they love them?” But whether it actually does is another
question. And in this case, there were broader geopolitical
pressures that likely came into play as the United States
considered whether to approve the Rosatom-Uranium One deal.
If doing business with Rosatom was good for those in the Uranium
One deal, engaging with Russia was also a priority of the
incoming Obama administration, which was hoping for a new era of
cooperation as Mr. Putin relinquished the presidency — if only
for a term — to Dmitri A. Medvedev.
“The assumption was we could engage Russia to further core U.S.
national security interests,” said Mr. McFaul, the former
It started out well. The two countries made progress on nuclear
proliferation issues, and expanded use of Russian territory to
resupply American forces in Afghanistan. Keeping Iran from
obtaining a nuclear weapon was among the United States’ top
priorities, and in June 2010 Russia signed off on a United
Nations resolution imposing tough new sanctions on that country.
Two months later, the deal giving ARMZ a controlling stake in
Uranium One was submitted to the Committee on Foreign Investment
in the United States for review. Because of the secrecy
surrounding the process, it is hard to know whether the
participants weighed the desire to improve bilateral relations
against the potential risks of allowing the Russian government
control over the biggest uranium producer in the United States.
The deal was ultimately approved in October, following what two
people involved in securing the approval said had been a
relatively smooth process.
Not all of the committee’s decisions are personally debated by
the agency heads themselves; in less controversial cases, deputy
or assistant secretaries may sign off. But experts and former
committee members say Russia’s interest in Uranium One and its
American uranium reserves seemed to warrant attention at the
“This deal had generated press, it had captured the attention of
Congress and it was strategically important,” said Richard
Russell, who served on the committee during the George W. Bush
administration. “When I was there invariably any one of those
conditions would cause this to get pushed way up the chain, and
here you had all three.”
And Mrs. Clinton brought a reputation for hawkishness to the
process; as a senator, she was a vocal critic of the committee’s
approval of a deal that would have transferred the management of
major American seaports to a company based in the United Arab
Emirates, and as a presidential candidate she had advocated
legislation to strengthen the process.
The Clinton campaign spokesman, Mr. Fallon, said that in
general, these matters did not rise to the secretary’s level. He
would not comment on whether Mrs. Clinton had been briefed on
the matter, but he gave The Times a statement from the former
assistant secretary assigned to the foreign investment committee
at the time, Jose Fernandez. While not addressing the specifics
of the Uranium One deal, Mr. Fernandez said, “Mrs. Clinton never
intervened with me on any C.F.I.U.S. matter.”
Mr. Fallon also noted that if any agency had raised national
security concerns about the Uranium One deal, it could have
taken them directly to the president.
Anne-Marie Slaughter, the State Department’s director of policy
planning at the time, said she was unaware of the transaction —
or the extent to which it made Russia a dominant uranium
supplier. But speaking generally, she urged caution in
evaluating its wisdom in hindsight.
“Russia was not a country we took lightly at the time or thought
was cuddly,” she said. “But it wasn’t the adversary it is today.”
That renewed adversarial relationship has raised concerns about
European dependency on Russian energy resources, including
nuclear fuel. The unease reaches beyond diplomatic circles. In
Wyoming, where Uranium One equipment is scattered across his
35,000-acre ranch, John Christensen is frustrated that repeated
changes in corporate ownership over the years led to French,
South African, Canadian and, finally, Russian control over
mining rights on his property.
“I hate to see a foreign government own mining rights here in
the United States,” he said. “I don’t think that should happen.”
Mr. Christensen, 65, noted that despite assurances by the
Nuclear Regulatory Commission that uranium could not leave the
country without Uranium One or ARMZ obtaining an export license
— which they do not have — yellowcake from his property was
routinely packed into drums and trucked off to a processing
plant in Canada.
Asked about that, the commission confirmed that Uranium One has,
in fact, shipped yellowcake to Canada even though it does not
have an export license. Instead, the transport company doing the
shipping, RSB Logistic Services, has the license. A commission
spokesman said that “to the best of our knowledge” most of the
uranium sent to Canada for processing was returned for use in
the United States. A Uranium One spokeswoman, Donna Wichers,
said 25 percent had gone to Western Europe and Japan. At the
moment, with the uranium market in a downturn, nothing is being
shipped from the Wyoming mines.
The “no export” assurance given at the time of the Rosatom deal
is not the only one that turned out to be less than it seemed.
Despite pledges to the contrary, Uranium One was delisted from
the Toronto Stock Exchange and taken private. As of 2013,
Rosatom’s subsidiary, ARMZ, owned 100 percent of it.
Correction: April 23, 2015
An earlier version of this article misstated, in one instance,
the surname of a fellow at the Hoover Institution. He is Peter
Schweizer, not Schweitzer.
An earlier version also incorrectly described the Clinton
Foundation’s agreement with the Obama administration regarding foreign-government donations while Hillary Rodham Clinton was
secretary of state. Under the agreement, the foundation would
not accept new donations from foreign governments, though it
could seek State Department waivers in specific cases. It was
not barred from accepting all foreign-government donations.
Correction: April 30, 2015
An article on Friday about contributions to the Clinton
Foundation from people associated with a Canadian uranium-mining
company described incorrectly the foundation’s agreement with
the Obama administration regarding foreign-government donations
while Hillary Clinton was secretary of state. Under the
agreement, the foundation would not accept new donations from
foreign governments, though it could seek State Department
waivers in specific cases. The foundation was not barred from
accepting all foreign-government donations.
Among the Donors to the Clinton Foundation
$31.3 million and a pledge for $100 million more
He built a company that later merged with Uranium One.
Mining investor who was chairman of Uranium One when an arm of
the Russian government, Rosatom, acquired it.
$1 million to $5 million
Adviser on 2007 UrAsia-Uranium One merger. Later helped raise
$260 million for the company.
$250,000 to $500,000
Chief Executive of U.S. Global Investors Inc., which held $4.7
million in Uranium One shares in the first quarter of 2011.
$50,000 to $100,000
Adviser to Uranium One. Founded Endeavour Mining with Mr.
GMP Securities Ltd.
Donating portion of profits
Worked on debt issue that raised $260 million for Uranium One.