Reported Justice Department Gag Orders Prevent Accountability of Controversial Obama-Era Deal with Russian Entities

WASHINGTON – Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) is calling on the Justice Department to lift a reported non-disclosure agreement preventing a former FBI confidential informant from speaking to Congress about the handling of a criminal probe linked to a controversial deal that ceded ownership of U.S. uranium assets to the Russian government. Despite an ongoing criminal investigation into officials working for subsidiaries of Rosatom, the Russian government entity seeking to acquire ownership of U.S. uranium, the Obama Administration approved the deal. The Justice Department has reportedly threatened to prosecute the informant if he discloses details of his involvement in the investigation.

“The Executive Branch does not have the authority to use non-disclosure agreements to avoid Congressional scrutiny. If the FBI is allowed to contract itself out of Congressional oversight, it would seriously undermine our Constitutional system of checks and balances. The Justice Department needs to work with the Committee to ensure that witnesses are free to speak without fear, intimidation or retaliation from law enforcement. Witnesses who want to talk to Congress should not be gagged and threatened with prosecution for talking. If that has happened, senior DOJ leadership needs to fix it and release the witness from the gag order,” Grassley said.

According to recent news reports, a U.S. businessman-turned-confidential informant documented bribes, extortion and money laundering by Russian entities that were attempting to secure U.S. government approval of a deal to acquire Uranium One, which reportedly owned 20 percent of American uranium assets at the time. According to the news reports, the informant has information regarding payments made by Russian executives to a U.S. entity that supported President Bill Clinton’s foundation. In 2010, despite an ongoing criminal investigation into officials working for Rosatom subsidiaries, the Obama Administration approved the takeover of Uranium One.

Last week, Grassley asked several federal agencies involved in approving the deal whether they had any knowledge of the ongoing criminal investigation and all communications relating to donations made to the Clinton Foundation by interested parties in the transaction. Those agencies include the Justice Department and State Department.

Grassley has previously raised concerns about the use of non-disclosure agreements by the federal government, specifically, the Justice Department and FBI, as a means of avoiding congressional oversight.

Grassley sent a letter Wednesday to the Justice Department asking for a copy of any reported non-disclosure agreement and calling for it to be lifted. Grassley also sent a letter to the attorney representing the confidential informant seeking an interview.

Those letters follow:

October 18, 2017

VIA ELECTRONIC TRANSMISSION
The Honorable Jeff Sessions
Attorney General
United States Department of Justice
Washington, D.C. 20220

Dear Attorney General Sessions:

On October 12, 2017, I wrote to several agencies, including the Department of Justice, regarding the Uranium One/Rosatom transaction that was approved by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) during the Obama administration. In that letter, I noted that the Department had an ongoing criminal investigation into Rosatom officials during the CFIUS approval process and asked, among other things, whether CFIUS was informed of that criminal matter.

On October 18, 2017, The Hill reported that “[a]n American businessman . . . worked for years undercover as an FBI confidential witness” to assist in the Department’s criminal investigation.[1] According to the reporting, the confidential witness “was asked by the FBI to sign a nondisclosure agreement (NDA) that prevents him from revealing what he knows to Congress.”[2] Further, the witness’ attorney said, “the Obama Justice Department threatened him with loss of freedom. They said they would bring a criminal case against him for violating an NDA.”[3]

These restrictions appear to improperly prevent the individual from making critical, good faith disclosures to Congress of potential wrongdoing. They also purport to limit the Committee’s access to information it needs to fulfill its constitutional responsibility of oversight. This Committee has oversight jurisdiction of the Justice Department, and if this NDA does in fact exist, it hinders the Committee’s ability to do its job. Accordingly, please provide a copy of the NDA by November 1, 2017. In addition, should the NDA exist, I request that you release him from it and pledge not to engage in any form of retaliation against him for good faith communications with Congress.

Sincerely,

Charles E. Grassley
Chairman
Committee on the Judiciary

October 18, 2017

VIA ELECTRONIC TRANSMISSION
Ms. Victoria Toensing
diGenova & Toensing, LLP
1776 K Street NW
Washington, DC 20006

Dear Ms. Toensing:
On October 12, 2017, I wrote to several agencies, including the Department of Justice, regarding the Uranium One/Rosatom transaction that was approved by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) during the Obama administration. In that letter, I noted that the Department had an ongoing criminal investigation into Rosatom officials during the CFIUS approval process and asked, among other things, whether CFIUS was informed of that criminal matter.

On October 18, 2017, The Hill reported that you represent a confidential informant used by the FBI during its criminal investigation into Rosatom employees connected to the CFIUS transaction.[4] Reporting indicates that “the informant’s work was crucial to the government’s ability to crack a multimillion dollar racketeering scheme by Russian nuclear officials on U.S. soil” and that the scheme involved “bribery, kickbacks, money laundering, and extortion.”[5] Further, the reporting indicates that your client can testify that “FBI agents made comments to him suggesting political pressure was exerted during the Justice Department probe” and “that there was specific evidence that could have scuttled approval of the Uranium One deal.”[6]

It appears that your client possesses unique information about the Uranium One/Rosatom transaction and how the Justice Department handled the criminal investigation into the Russian criminal conspiracy. Such information is critical to the Committee’s oversight of the Justice Department and its ongoing inquiry into the manner in which CFIUS approved the transaction. Accordingly, the Committee requests to interview your client. Please contact Committee staff by October 25, 2017, to arrange the interview.

Thank you for your attention to this important matter.

Sincerely,

Charles E. Grassley
Chairman
Committee on the Judiciary   back...
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