Department of Justice (DOJ) sources disputed reports late Friday that Attorney General Jeff Sessions has recused himself from decisions involving potential investigations into alleged corruption surrounding a deal that gave Russia control of a large portion of U.S. uranium-mining capacity.
DOJ officials told the Free Beacon that Sessions has not recused himself from deciding how the Justice Department should respond to recent reports raising questions about the Obama administration’s approval of a 2010 purchase of Uranium One, which controlled 20 percent of U.S. uranium, by Russian energy company Rosatam.
Sessions, in his role as attorney general, could recommend an internal DOJ investigation into the matter or appoint an outside special counsel to handle it.
For months, President Donald Trump has blasted Sessions for recusing himself from the probe into Russian meddling in the election and Moscow’s alleged ties to the Trump campaign. Sessions’s recusal led to the appointment of former Robert Mueller as special counsel in charge of the Russia probe.
Following Mueller's first round of indictments in the Russia probe this week, Trump expressed frustration over his inability to get involved in Justice Department decisions and what investigations it launches.
On Friday morning he tweeted: "Everybody is asking why the Justice Department (and FBI) isn’t looking into all of the dishonesty going on with Crooked Hillary & the Dems…"
By week’s end, conservatives who support Sessions became increasingly concerned that Trump would decide to fire Sessions if the attorney general did not provide clarity about his recusal and whether he would be involved in decisions regarding former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and any improper role she might have played in the Uranium One deal.
Sessions’s defenders point to his decision last week to lift a gag order on an FBI informant with detailed knowledge of a Russian bribery scheme linked to the Uranium One deal as evidence that is has not recused himself from the issue. The Obama-era DOJ had imposed the non-disclosure agreement and reportedly threatened the informant with litigation if he broke it.
Rick Manning, the president of Americans for Limited Government, a conservative nonprofit, on Friday issued a statement, saying that Sessions "is in the game" on Uranium One and knocking down reports claiming otherwise.
Manning, citing what he called an "unimpeachable source," said Sessions is on the Uranium One case.
"The fact that the attorney general ended the non-disclosure agreement for the Uranium One whistleblower provides the proof that Sessions is actively involved in the Uranium One case," he said. "Unfortunately, the attorney general cannot conduct any investigations through press releases and sound bites allowing the rest of us to receive a blow-by-blow description of every action that might be under way."
GOP lawmakers have launched their own investigations into the matter after the Hill and Circa News reported new details of an extensive Russian bribery scheme aimed at expanding Moscow’s control of U.S. nuclear energy supplies. Three congressional committees are now looking into the bribery scheme and whether it influenced then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s decision to sign off on the acquisition.
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa), who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, was the first lawmaker to press the Justice Department and other federal agencies for information about the Uranium One deal, asking Sessions during an Oct. 19 hearing whether the agency was investigating the deal and the surrounding Russian bribes.
At the time, Sessions responded that it would be inappropriate to disclose whether Justice is looking into to the matter but tried to assure Grassley that his concerns would be addressed.
He also said he doubted Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein would be the right person to look into the matter because he had handled the prosecution of those implicated in the Russian bribery scheme while he was serving as a U.S. attorney in Maryland before he became a top DOJ official.
Last week, Grassley appeared exasperated by the lack of clarity about whether Sessions could launch an investigation into Uranium One.
"Whoever in DOJ is capable w authority to appoint a special counsel shld do so to investigate Uranium One ‘whoever’ means if u aren’t recused," he tweeted.
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R., Fla.) said earlier this week that Sessions met with House Judiciary Committee Republicans in late September and told them that his recusal prevented any involvement in potential investigations into Uranium One or anything that involved the 2016 campaign, the candidates, or Russia.
According to a Breitbart report, when Gaetz asked Sessions to appoint a special counsel to look into the Uranium One deal, the attorney general abruptly stood up and said he couldn’t discuss the matter because of the recusal and left the room.
That left the House Judiciary Republicans with a group of aides to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein who Gaetz said showed "no interest" in discussing a potential Uranium One Justice Department investigation.
Gaetz said Sessions’s "broad" interpretation of the recusal puts Rosenstein in charge, which he called "troubling."
Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R., Va.), who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, as well as Reps. Ron DeSantis, (R., Fla.), Louis Gohmert, (R., Texas), and Jim Jordan, (R., Ohio), all members of the panel, also were at the late September meeting with Sessions.
Justice Department spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores earlier this week said she did not believe that others remembered Sessions making the statements about his recusal that Gaetz claimed but would not comment directly or not about whether Sessions was recused from the Uranium One issue.
Sessions, an early Trump supporter and frequent campaign surrogate, in early March recused himself from any Department of Justice investigations into President Trump’s campaign and any alleged ties to Russia. It is unclear, however, how far the recusal extended.
The recusal came after a storm of criticism over Sessions’s failure to disclose two instances in which he met Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, during his Senate confirmation hearings.
Trump and other Republicans pushed back, pointing to numerous contacts Kislyak had with high-profile Democrats, including Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and several Democratic senators.
The Hill newspaper and Circa News reported new details of a sweeping multimillion dollar racketeering scheme by Russian nuclear officials on U.S. soil that involved "bribery, kickbacks, money laundering and extortion."
The report indicated that an FBI informant had information that FBI agents suggested that political pressure was exerted during the Justice Department probe of the bribery scheme and that there was specific evidence that could have scuttled approval of the Uranium One deal.
The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) approved the controversial Uranium One deal in 2010. Then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and then-Attorney General Eric Holder served on CFIUS at the time the agency approved the deal. She has said she knew nothing about the Russian racketeering.
Grassley and other GOP lawmakers have questioned the propriety of millions of dollars the Clinton Foundation received from "interested parties" in the uranium deal and have highlighted a $500,000 payment Bill Clinton received for a speech in Moscow before a Russian-government aligned bank. That speech took place the same month the Russians began the process of acquiring Uranium One.