Attorney General Jeff Sessions declined to confirm or deny whether or not the Justice Department is investigating if Russian payments to the Clintons improperly influenced a decision by the Obama administration to approve a Russian takeover of a U.S. uranium mine.
In response to questioning by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa) during a Wednesday Judiciary Committee hearing, Sessions said only that the Justice Department would "take such actions as is appropriate."
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"Mr. Chairman, we will hear your concerns. The Department of Justice will take such actions as is appropriate, I know," Sessions said, noting that "some people involved have gone to jail in that transaction already."
"Without confirming or denying the existence of any particular investigation, I would say I hear your concerns and they will be reviewed," he added.
Grassley, who chairs the Judiciary Committee, is demanding more answers about the Russian takeover of a U.S. uranium mine—a sale approved during the Obama administration.
That sale, which gave Moscow control of more than 20 percent of U.S. uranium, is under new scrutiny after Tuesday reports that the FBI was investigating the Russian nuclear agency that acquired the uranium mine for a global bribery scheme before the sale was approved and that key members of Congress were not informed about the Russian scheme.
The reports noted that the Clinton Foundation received millions of dollars from Russian parties with ties to the transaction.
Then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, along with then-Attorney General Eric Holder, served on one of the agencies that approved the sale between Uranium One and Rosatom, a Russian state-owned nuclear agency. That agency is the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS).
Grassley wants to know if CFIUS and other U.S. agencies that signed off on the transaction were aware of the criminal FBI probe into a Russian bribery scheme. As attorney general, Holder would have known about the FBI probe.
He also pressed Sessions on whether he believed it would be proper for Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to conduct any review or investigation of the Obama administration's handling of the uranium sale to the Russians. Rosenstein was the U.S. attorney in Maryland that investigated and prosecuted the Russian bribery scheme.
Sessions said that decision would be Rosenstein's to make, although he said he hoped that he would consult senior Justice Department ethics officials.
"It would be his decision, he is a man of integrity and ability," Sessions said. "If he feels that he has an inability to proceed with this investigation, it would be his responsibility to make that determination and should consult as I told you I would, as I have done, with the senior ethics committee at the department."
Grassley also highlighted the millions the Clinton Foundation received from "interested parties in the transaction," as well as a $500,000 payment former President Bill Clinton received for a speech in Moscow before a Russian-government aligned bank. Grassley noted that Clinton speech took place the same month the Russians began the process of acquiring the U.S. uranium mine.
"This fact-pattern raises serious concerns about the improper influence on the process by the previous—by the Clintons during the Obama administration," Grassley said. "Has the Justice Department fully investigated whether the Russians compromised the Obama administration's decision to smooth the way for this transaction? And if not, why not?"
Sessions responded that it would be inappropriate to disclose whether the Justice Department is looking into those payments to the Clintons.
"Mr. Chairman, we are working hard to maintain discipline in the department—it wouldn't be appropriate for me to comment on any ongoing investigations," he said.
Two years ago and again last week, Grassley said he wrote to the Justice Department about Russia's acquisition of Uranium One.
"It turns out that during the transaction, the Justice Department had an ongoing criminal investigation for bribery, extortion, and money laundering into officials for the Russian company making that purchase," Grassley said at the start of the Judiciary Committee hearing.
"Russians involved in the conspiracy were reportedly coordinating with high-level officials close to Vladimir Putin," he added.
While this FBI probe was going on, he noted, the Clinton Foundation reportedly received millions of dollars from interested parties in the transaction.
"Then-Secretary Clinton's State Department was one of the agencies that gave a thumb's up to the takeover. Somehow, despite all this, the Obama administration approved the transaction," he said.