Alternative Fact of the Week: Uranium One and an Actual Fact All-Star

We have not had much occasion during the Trump era to celebrate the declaration of actual facts — you know, the independently verifiable, logical, sane, well sourced things that you’d hope would be the basis of civil discussion. But this week we offer a shout-out to Fox News anchor Shepard Smith as our Actual Fact of the Week All-Star for his succinct debunking of the persistent alternative facts his employer (and many others) have been spouting about an obscure 2010 business transaction involving a South African mining company.

The fact checking on the wild claims by President Donald Trump and others about the Uranium One deal has been done many times before. Mr. Smith broke no new ground in that regard. But he was preaching to whatever the opposite of the choir is, and for that, he deserves some recognition.

On Tuesday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions testified before the House Judiciary Committee that he is asking for recommendations from other Justice Department officials about whether to appoint a special counsel to investigate the deal and other Hillary Clinton-related matters. And later that day, Mr. Smith explained why that is not remotely necessary.

The gist of the supposed scandal is that Ms. Clinton approved the sale of 20 percent of America’s uranium to Russia in exchange for more than $140 million in donations to the Clinton Foundation. The charge originated in the book “Clinton Cash” by a senior Breitbart editor, and it has been repeated willy nilly by Mr. Trump and his supporters, particularly his sycophants on Fox News.

The reality, as Mr. Smith and various other fact checkers have by now well established, is this:

  • The State Department has one of nine seats on a body that advises the president on proposed sales of U.S. assets that could have national security implications. Whether Ms. Clinton actively participated in the deliberations about the proposed sale of Uranium One to a Russian company is unclear, but neither the State Department nor any of the other eight federal agencies involved raised any objections. Had any of them done so, President Barack Obama (and not Ms. Clinton) would have made the call.
  • The assets of the company included what was at the time 20 percent of American uranium production capacity (now 10 percent), but the terms of the deal do not allow any of the material to be exported. A Russian company may own those reserves, but it can’t do anything with them other than sell them to U.S. nuclear power plants, which mainly get their fuel from overseas anyway.
  • Nearly all of the donations to the Clinton Foundation in question came from one source, Frank Giustra, who founded a Canadian uranium company that later merged with Uranium One. He divested from the company in 2007, well before Ms. Clinton was named secretary of state and even longer before the company’s sale was proposed.

So, in a nutshell, the implication that Ms. Clinton allowed the Russians to take 20 percent of America’s uranium as a payback to a major Clinton Foundation donor is, in pretty much every element, flat out wrong. Mr. Smith pointed that out methodically and dispassionately, and now he’s getting no end of grief for it, with Fox News viewers taking to Twitter to accuse him of broadcasting fake news, being a closet Democrat or (horrors!) belonging on CNN, not Fox. (Have no fear, Fox viewers, Sean Hannity was back at it that night with a weird flow chart connecting Hillary with Vladimir Putin and proclaiming the whole matter a textbook case of “pay to play.”)

Mr. Smith has been the voice of reason before, for example telling Fox viewers that the network did not, in fact, have any evidence to suggest that President Obama put Mr. Trump under surveillance. But it’s a hard job to row against the current at a network so rigorously on-message as Fox. For your unwillingness to let alternative facts slide, Mr. Smith, we salute you.

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