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Trump Russia Probe Sessions

Attorney General Jeff Sessions speaks during a House Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill, Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2017 in Washington. Sessions is leaving open the possibility that a special counsel could be appointed to look into Clinton Foundation dealings and an Obama-era uranium deal. The Justice Department made the announcement Monday in responding to concerns from Republican lawmakers. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

For months now, Republicans have been searching for a way to discredit special counsel Robert Mueller III's investigation of the Russia scandal. One way they've done so is by alleging that the Justice Department and the FBI are the locus of an anti-Trump and pro-Clinton conspiracy.

To prove this, they've seized upon (among other things) the case of Uranium One, another Clinton faux scandal that never came to anything, because there was no wrongdoing on Hillary Clinton's part to uncover. Republicans - including President Donald Trump - have charged that law enforcement overlooked the scandal during the Obama years, and have recently been trying to get Attorney General Jeff Sessions to appoint a second special counsel to look into it.

But a document released Thursday by Democrats on three congressional committees pretty much demolishes the case they've been trying to make for that second special counsel.

Uranium One was a mining company bought in 2010 by the Russian state nuclear energy company Rosatom. That sale had to be approved by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), which is made up of the heads of nine executive branch agencies, including the State Department.

Because a man named Frank Giustra, who gave significant contributions to the Clinton Foundation, sold his company to Uranium One in 2007, Republicans charged that Clinton corruptly engineered the approval of the Uranium One sale years later. There was zero evidence for this charge, and it was ludicrous on its face: Not only was Clinton not involved in the sale approval (the work was performed by lower-ranking officials), but also she would have had to get eight other agencies to join in her alleged corrupt scheme.

How does that connect to the new Democratic memo? To push along the Uranium One "scandal," last fall Republicans said they had explosive new evidence from a confidential informant named William Douglas Campbell, a lobbyist who had worked with Russian companies and who was secretly working for the FBI, claiming that the Russians had funneled money to the Clintons to get the Uranium One deal approved. They also believe that a speech that Bill Clinton gave in Moscow to an investment bank was part of the scheme. Here's what Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., said on Fox News in October:

"We have the money that went to Bill Clinton for the speech, the half a million dollars. Millions of dollars to the Foundation from sources connected with Uranium One. And then you have the approval of the deal on the CFIUS board, which Hillary Clinton was a member of, in 2010. So you do have the quid, you have the quo. This informant, I believe, would be able to link those two together."

This charge was then used to pressure Jeff Sessions to appoint a special counsel. In November, Sessions directed Justice Department officials to explore the matter in preparation for that possibility, and in December we learned that FBI agents were being asked for info on Uranium One as part of that inquiry.

The Democratic memo, however, makes clear that if Republicans think Campbell is going to blow the lid off this whole conspiracy, they're sadly mistaken.

The memo summarizes what happened when Campbell - and, separately, officials from the Justice Department - were interviewed by GOP and Democratic members of the three congressional committees. The upshot: Campbell appears to have no evidence of such a conspiracy to offer, and he's also an unreliable witness.

Here are some of the key facts the memo lays out about Campbell:

- The Justice Department had planned to use Campbell as an informant in building a separate case against a man named Vadim Mikerin, who was implicated in a bribery scheme involving contracts to transport uranium from Russia to the United States for use in power plants. But as Justice officials told the committees, they determined it was likely that Campbell had engaged in illegal activity he had concealed from them, and Justice decided not to rely on his testimony.

- Justice Department officials told the committees that they do not plan to use Campbell's testimony in any future prosecutions.

- Justice Department officials explained to the committees that Campbell "never provided any evidence or made allegations regarding Secretary Clinton or the Clinton Foundation," as the memo puts it, adding that he never made "any allegation of corruption, illegality, or impropriety on Clinton, the Clinton Foundation, President Clinton, the Uranium One deal, or CFIUS."

- During his interviews with the committees, Campbell did not offer any evidence of Hillary Clinton or anyone in the Obama administration taking actions as a result of Russian influence.

- Campbell told the committees that none of the Russians he dealt with ever mentioned anything about the $500,000 Bill Clinton was paid for the speech in Moscow.

- Campbell said that he heard officials of the Russian energy company Tenex bragging about "influence from Moscow" over the Clintons, but he said he "did not take seriously" those comments.

What does this all add up to? Republicans say they have a blockbuster witness who will prove Hillary Clinton engineered the approval of the Uranium One sale because she was paid off by the Russians. They use that claim to pressure Sessions to appoint a special counsel to investigate Clinton.

But then it turns out that their claim is completely bogus: Not only is the witness unreliable, but also he isn't even claiming to have the evidence Republicans say he does, which we learn only when Democrats release more information that Republicans were in no hurry to reveal.

We should note that the Republicans may have a response to the information contained in the Democratic memo, and perhaps they'll be able to explain why Campbell really does have the goods on Clinton. But at the moment that looks like it's going to be an awfully hard case to make.

So the question now is: What is Sessions going to do?

Sessions hasn't seemed particularly gung-ho about appointing a special counsel, probably because he knows that the charges Republicans in Congress are making are laughable. At the same time, he's under pressure to demonstrate his loyalty to Trump, who tweets about Uranium One whenever he sees something about it on Fox News. There would be few better ways to bolster his job security than to appoint a special counsel to investigate the president's former opponent, as Trump has regularly demanded.

Is Sessions going to have the guts to say no?

Paul Waldman is a contributor to The Plum Line blog, and a senior writer at The American Prospect. He wrote this for The Washington Post.

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