FACT CHECK: ThinkProgress Founder Claims Clinton Couldn’t Have Blocked The Sale of Uranium One

David Sivak | Fact Check Editor

ThinkProgress Founder Judd Legum claimed Friday that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton couldn’t have blocked the Uranium One deal.

“Hillary Clinton could not have blocked the sale,” tweeted Legum. “She was one of NINE cabinet members on a committee.”

Verdict: False

The committee that approved the Uranium One deal seeks consensus on every decision, meaning a single cabinet member could have, in theory, held up or effectively blocked the sale.

Fact Check:

The Uranium One deal was approved by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), an inter-agency panel led by the Treasury Department. The committee reviews foreign investments in U.S. companies to determine whether they pose a national security risk.

Legum argues that because Clinton was only one of nine cabinet members on CFIUS, she couldn’t have blocked a sale that gave Russia ownership over 20 percent of the U.S. uranium supply. But the committee operates by consensus, meaning a single member agency can unilaterally halt a transaction on national security grounds.

“As a matter of practice, before CFIUS clears a transaction to proceed, each member agency confirms to Treasury, at politically accountable levels, that it has no unresolved national security concerns with the transaction,” reads a Treasury press release on how the committee operates.

For each sale, Treasury appoints at least one member agency to lead a review, and in most cases, the other members will defer to the policy expertise of the lead agency.

“If that specific agency has real issues, or frankly has no issues, then the other member agencies would generally be expected to agree, absent compelling reasons,” Mario Mancuso, former Under Secretary of Commerce to President George W. Bush, told The Daily Caller News Foundation.

The committee focuses on national security, but other considerations do come into play. Economy-oriented member agencies like the Department of Commerce and the Treasury Department advocate for an open investment policy, while agencies like the State Department tend to weigh more heavily how a sale would impact diplomatic relations.

For example, the Uranium One deal was approved around the time of President Barack Obama’s “reset” with Russia, so it’s possible the State Department considered this detente in evaluating the deal.

Since CFIUS strives for consensus, if an agency like State has compelling reasons to oppose a sale, it can wind up in jeopardy. “It is possible that a singularly determined agency could effectively kill a deal if it wanted to,” said Mancuso, a former CFIUS decision-maker. “This is rare, but it’s possible.”

We contacted Legum, who countered that Clinton couldn’t have blocked the Uranium One sale because the president, not the committee, has say over whether a transaction can proceed. “The committee makes recommendations,” said Legum. “Only the president can block or approve a sale.”

Legum is correct – the president holds that authority. But in practice, a decision to approve or reject a transaction has only reached the president’s desk four times. In nearly all cases, the foreign investor will either accept measures that mitigate the national security concerns expressed by CFIUS or decide to cancel the deal, all without the president ever getting involved.

“Most transactions don’t rise to the level of the President because the issue is resolved at a lower level, either through approval, mitigation, or the withdrawal of the transaction,” Andrew Hunter, senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told TheDCNF by email.

In the case of Uranium One, Russian investors agreed to mitigating measures and CFIUS permitted the sale. Yet had Clinton’s State Department, or any agency for that matter, expressed serious concerns, the deal could have been scrapped.

“The State Department has important equities in the process,” said Mancuso. “It has a very important role, to the extent it chooses to exercise that role.”

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David Sivak

Fact Check Editor
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