Fox News host Sean Hannity has decided that the real takeaway from special counsel Robert Mueller’s February 16 indictment of Russian nationals who allegedly meddled in the 2016 presidential campaign is that it vindicates his conspiracy theory that Hillary Clinton was bribed to help the Russian government purchase an American uranium company.
The so-called Uranium One scandal was launched in 2015 by a discredited author who was employed by then-Breitbart.com head Steve Bannon and funded by top Trump donors Robert and Rebekah Mercer. The theory posited that Clinton played a "central role" as secretary of state in approving the 2010 purchase of mining company Uranium One by the Russian State Atomic Nuclear Agency because Russians and people linked to the deal had given money to her husband and to the Clinton Foundation.
This was transparent nonsense and fell apart immediately under scrutiny. But Hannity has repeatedly returned to the story as various probes into the Russian effort to help Trump win the election continue, claiming that the Uranium One tale proves that Clinton was involved in the “real collusion” with Russia, not Trump. Earlier this month, for example, he relentlessly hyped the dubious claims of an FBI informant who was involved in an Obama-era federal investigation into the Russian nuclear industry. Justice Department officials reportedly deem the informant not credible, but Hannity claimed his story is a “huge bombshell.”
Mueller's indictment on Friday of 13 Russian nationals and three Russian entities on alleged crimes stemming from Russian information warfare efforts on U.S. social media sites during the election has bizarrely provided Hannity with a new opportunity to talk about the mining deal.
Hannity has echoed Republican Party operatives and the president himself in falsely claiming that Mueller’s Friday indictment vindicates Trump and his campaign aides. That’s deceptive, but frankly about what you expect from a pro-Trump propagandist. But Hannity has also used the indictment to make a truly absurd argument, citing Mueller's action in each of his last four programs as evidence that he has been on the right track in pushing Uranium One conspiracy theories.
The indictment, Hannity explained on Friday night, shows “nothing short of a sophisticated effort by the Russians to gain influence in America.” According to Hannity, unlike the media, his show has been “telling you this, about Vladimir Putin, about Russian operatives, about how they've been involved in sophisticated schemes” -- like Uranium One.
“Remember,” Hannity continued, “[Putin] had people, operatives on the ground with the purpose of breaking into America's uranium market. We also told you how those Russian operatives were involved and we knew it because we had an insider on the ground, an FBI informant that they were involved in bribery, in kickbacks, and money laundering, racketeering, all in a scheme, yes, tied to Hillary Clinton.”
In fact, according to Hannity, Russia only tried to influence the 2016 election because it had been so successful in the Uranium One purchase. “Putin and Russia, they were successful in 2010, they got the uranium,” he explained. Four years later, he added, citing the indictment, “Russian nationals, they were working together, with a troll farm located in St. Petersburg, Russia, trying to influence the election,” he said. “Why wouldn't they after they got uranium?”
This doesn’t make a lot of sense. The indictment doesn’t close the massive holes in the Uranium One story -- namely that Clinton has not been connected to any specific action in approving the deal. The suggestion that Trump, unlike former President Barack Obama, has boldly stood against the Russian threat clashes with Trump’s years of effusive praise for Putin and his unwillingness to this day to end questions about whether he actually thinks Russia tried to influence the election. And Hannity’s effort to link Russia’s success in purchasing Uranium One to its effort to help Trump win is both spurious and noxious.
In the days that followed, Hannity and his crew of pro-Trump sycophants repeatedly returned to the Uranium One theme. Jeanine Pirro claimed Clinton’s purported Uranium One acts are the “real crime” and said that Mueller himself “should be the one being investigated” because “he was the head of the FBI when this attempt to find the uranium started.”
Sebastian Gorka pushed the obvious falsehood that Clinton had personally approved the Uranium One sale and done so in spite of “laws on the book .. that say America must be self-reliant on uranium.”
And Hannity himself has used the story to attack Obama, citing an oft-repeated but flagrantly false statistic in claiming that “no serious President would've allowed Vladimir Putin and Russia to get 20 percent of our uranium.”
Last night, Hannity hosted a panel of the pro-Trump journalists Sara Carter and John Solomon and the Uranium One informant’s right-wing lawyer Victoria Toensing before a live audience at the Conservative Political Action Conference. All three have played key roles in advancing the pseudo scandal, and Hannity praised them for it. “All these guys have been amazing in terms of helping us unpeel the onion,” he said after introducing them, adding that “they deserve Pulitzers at the end of the day.”
After an extensive discussion of the Uranium One tale, Hannity asked, “Will this become bigger than any other scandal we are following?” The guests agreed that it would.
It’s hard to rank the panoply of fabrications and conspiracy theories Hannity tries to use to protect the president, but I think they may be right. Uranium One always provides Hannity with exactly what he’s looking for -- a way to defend Trump from the Russia probe by attacking Clinton and Mueller. We’ll hear much more about this from him in the days to come.