A Sweetheart Plea Helps the Uranium One Case Disappear

“Even though the FBI had an informant collecting damning information, and had a prosecutable case against Mikerin by early 2010, the extortion racket against American energy companies was permitted to continue into the summer of 2014. It was only then that, finally, Mikerin and his confederates were arrested. Why then? Months earlier, in March 2014, Russia annexed Crimea. Putin also began massing forces on the Ukrainian border, coordinating and conducting attacks, ultimately taking control of territory. Clearly, the pie-in-the-sky Obama reset was dead. Furthermore, the prosecution of Mikerin’s racketeering scheme had been so delayed that the Justice Department risked losing the ability to charge the 2009 felonies because of the five-year statute of limitations on most federal crimes.

Still, a lid needed to be kept on the case. It would have made for an epic Obama administration scandal, and a body blow to Hillary Clinton’s presidential hopes, if in the midst of Russia’s 2014 aggression, public attention had been drawn to the failure, four years earlier, to prosecute a national-security case in order to protect Russia’s takeover of U.S. nuclear assets … in a transaction that had significant ramifications for Clinton Foundation investors.

And lo and behold: The case disappeared without fanfare, much less a public trial. Think about that: The investigation of Russian racketeering in the American energy sector was the kind of spectacular success over which the FBI and Justice Department typically do a bells-’n’-whistles victory lap: the big self-congratulatory press conference followed by the media-intensive prosecutions—and, of course, more press conferences.

Here … crickets.

The Justice Department and FBI had little to say when Mikerin and his co-conspirators were arrested. They quietly negotiated guilty pleas that were announced just before Labor Day. It was arranged that Mikerin would be sentenced just before Christmas. All under the radar.

How desperate was the Obama Justice Department to plead the case out? Mikerin was arrested on a complaint describing a racketeering scheme that stretched back to 2004 and included extortion, fraud, and money laundering. Yet he was permitted to plead guilty to a single count of money-laundering conspiracy.

Except it was not really money-laundering conspiracy.

Under federal law, that crime carries a penalty of up to twenty years’ imprisonment, not only for conspiracy but for each act of money laundering.33 But Mikerin was not made to plead guilty to this charge. He was permitted to plead guilty to an offense charged under the catch-all federal conspiracy provision, Section 371, which criminalizes agreements to commit any crime against the United States—an offense carrying a penalty of zero to five years’ imprisonment.34

The Justice Department instructs prosecutors that when Congress has given a federal offense its own conspiracy provision with a heightened punishment (as it has for money laundering, racketeering, narcotics trafficking, and other serious crimes), they may not charge a section 371 conspiracy. That statute is for less serious conspiracy cases. To invoke it for money laundering caps the sentence way below Congress’s intent for that behavior. It signals to the court that the prosecutor does not regard the offense as major.

Yet, that is exactly what Rosenstein’s office did, in a plea agreement his prosecutors co-signed with attorneys from the Justice Department’s Fraud Section—then run by Andrew Weissmann, later Mueller’s top deputy in the Trump–Russia investigation.35

As we’ll see at many junctures, it’s a small world.

Mikerin thus faced no RICO charges, no extortion or fraud charges. The plea agreement is careful not to mention any of the extortions in 2009 and 2010, before CFIUS approved Rosatom’s acquisition of U.S. uranium stock. Mikerin just had to plead guilty to a nominal “money laundering” conspiracy charge. Insulated from Congress’s prescribed money-laundering sentence, he got a term of just four years’ imprisonment. The deal was a steal for him. It also spared the Obama administration a full public airing of the facts.36

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