FACT CHECK: MSNBC Host Fact Checks Clinton Foundation ‘Conspiracy Theory’ [VIDEO]

David Sivak | Fact Check Editor

MSNBC host Joy-Ann Reid attempted to fact-check a guest on her program Sunday who raised allegations that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton approved the sale of a uranium production company to Russia in exchange for donations to the Clinton Foundation.

Reid called the allegation “an entirely made up conspiracy theory” perpetuated by the right.

Verdict: False

The Clinton family’s longstanding ties to the uranium company in question have received serious scrutiny by news outlets across the ideological spectrum. Allegations of a quid pro quo are unsubstantiated, but critics have raised reasonable concerns over conflicts of interest and a lack of transparency from the Clinton Foundation.

Fact Check:

As a guest on “AM Joy,” President of the London Center for Policy Research, Herb London, brought up an accusation that appears in “Clinton Cash,” a book by conservative author Peter Schweizer. The book suggests a quid pro quo between investors of Uranium One, a uranium mining company, and Clinton.

“That is a completely false claim peddled by many on the right,” Reid responded after pulling up the fact-checking website Snopes.

Many conservatives have alleged the donations were part of a more elaborate pay-to-play scheme devised by the Clinton family, a claim advanced by President Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential election.

But donations to the Clinton Foundation by Uranium One investors have been scrutinized and even criticized by left-leaning news organizations. As the Guardian noted, “Such awkward collisions between Bill’s fundraising activities and Hillary’s public service have raised concerns not just among those who might be dismissed as part of a vast rightwing conspiracy.”

The New York Times has investigated the donations extensively since 2007. Its reporting describes a close, mutually-beneficial relationship between the Clinton family and Frank Giustra, a businessman and founder of the company that would later become Uranium One.

Giustra went from a virtually unknown figure in uranium mining to a major industry player in 2005 after he secured lucrative uranium rights in Kazakhstan, days after traveling to the country accompanied by former President Bill Clinton.

“What his fledgling company lacked in experience, it made up for in connections,” writes the Times.

Giustra donated $31.3 million to the Clinton Foundation several months after the visit to Kazakhstan, which the Times characterized as a “windfall” for the charitable organization.

The Clinton Foundation had repeatedly insisted that the $31.3 million line item on its tax return was the sum total of smaller contributions, but the Times found there was only a single donor – Giustra.

The Times also discovered $2.4 million in undisclosed donations by Ian Telfer, the chairman of Uranium One, despite a pledge by Clinton to publicly disclose all Foundation donors while serving as secretary of state. The Times editorial board called the omission “an inexcusable violation of her pledge.”

The Times scrutinized other transactions as well, including a $500,000 speaking fee paid to former President Clinton by a Russian bank promoting Uranium One stock. The speech took place shortly after Russia announced its intention to buy a majority stake in the company, a move that would require approval by Secretary Clinton’s state department.

The same Times editorial board that endorsed Clinton for president last year also admonished her in 2015 for the appearance of impropriety, citing dealings with Uranium One in particular.

The lack of transparency and conflicts of interest reported by the Times were widely covered by outlets like NPR, Slate and even Reid’s employer MSNBC. The Washington Post wrote its own investigative piece in 2015 examining the Clinton-Giustra relationship, and back in 2008, a WaPo op-ed remarked how “the appearance of a conflict is unavoidable.”

Despite the suspect nature of donations, there’s no hard evidence of quid pro quo between Secretary Clinton and Uranium One investors. The Clinton Foundation has repeatedly denied allegations of wrongdoing, and even Schweizer, who introduced the claim, concedes there’s no direct evidence of corruption.

As Politifact summarized in a fact-check on the matter: “While the connections between the Clinton Foundation and the Russian deal may appear fishy, there’s simply no proof of any quid pro quo.”

Clinton did not have unilateral authority to approve the Russian takeover of Uranium One either. She was one of nine members on a committee that reviews foreign investments in the U.S. for national security risks. The committee makes recommendations, but the president has ultimate authority to approve or deny an investment.

However, Clinton did have a seat at the table. The committee seeks consensus from its members before issuing a recommendation, so if even one member raises a national security concern, it could imperil an investment.

Regardless of whether Clinton actually influenced the outcome, donations from Uranium One presented a conflict of interest.

“Whether the donations played any role in the approval of the uranium deal is unknown,” writes the Times. “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.”

Snopes ruled the claim “false” in a fact-check from October 2016, which Reid displayed on-screen later in the segment. Reid calls the allegation “completely false,” but it’s unknowable whether any corrupt dealings occurred.

The subheadline of the Snopes fact-check – in a seeming contradiction – agrees, calling the claim “unsubstantiated.” In a similar 2016 fact-check, Politifact described the claim as “unsubstantiated” as well.

The team at “AM Joy” did not respond to The Daily Caller News Foundation for comment.

The conflict of interest inherent in the Clinton family’s longstanding ties to Uranium One as well as a lack of transparency from the Clinton Foundation in the past is enough to warrant reasonable scrutiny. While unsubstantiated, the allegation of a quid pro quo exchange is not “an entirely made up conspiracy theory.”

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David Sivak

Fact Check Editor
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