A leading U.S. uranium producer is confident that President Donald Trump is going to crack down on its foreign competitors. But in the spirit of not taking any chances, the company rented space at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, enlisted a top Trumpworld public relations executive, and invoked a well-worn Trump attack line on his 2016 campaign opponent to try to nail down a policy win.
The Texas-based Uranium Energy Corporation posted up in the exhibition hall of the annual conservative confab this week, where it courted conservative activists, radio hosts, and at least one senior White House official with its pitch to crack down on foreign competition in the name of national security.
Specifically, the company is pressing the Department of Commerce to impose quotas on uranium imports that would carve out a quarter of the market purely for domestic producers. The department is scheduled to present its findings to President Trump in April, when he will decide whether to invoke his authority to impose “national security” trade restrictions.
UEC’s pitch isn’t just boilerplate national security or protectionist rhetoric. It has something most other companies vying for attention at this year’s CPAC do not: an opponent that’s been repeatedly called out and demonized by President Trump and his allies—Uranium One.
A Canadian company, Uranium One is a major uranium importer to the U.S., which pits it against UEC’s policy agenda. It is also a boogeyman for conservatives, who believe that then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton shepherded its acquisition by Rosatom, a nuclear energy company owned by Russia’s state atomic energy agency, after Uranium One’s chairman donated millions of dollars to her family’s foundation.
The conspiracy theory fails to account for the fact Clinton was just one of a board of nine federal officials who signed off on the deal. But that didn’t stop Scott Melbye, UEC’s executive vice president of Uranium Energy Corp, from warning about it while manning the company’s booth at CPAC.
“People who say that’s exaggerated or there’s nothing there—there’s definitely something there,” Melbye said. “As an American, I’m outraged at that whole episode.”
Melbye, who was Uranium One’s top marketing officer until 2014, called the Rosatom acquisition, and Clinton’s role in it, “bizarre.”
Prior to the interview, Melbye was seen chatting at the UEC booth with White House strategic communications director Mercedes Schlapp, the wife of Matt Schlapp, a Republican lobbyist and the chairman of the American Conservative Union, which organizes the CPAC conference. Mercedes Schlapp was overheard mentioning Peter Navarro, a White House policy aide who has pushed for national security restrictions on imports of uranium and other products under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act. Melbye said Navarro has helped win the White House over to UEC’s position on the matter.
Mercedes Schlapp did not return request for comment.
For the rest of CPAC’s attendees, UEC hammered home the Clinton angle at its exhibit booth, including handing out printed versions of a 2018 story in The Hill alleging efforts by the Federal Bureau of Investigation to keep secret details of its investigation into Clinton’s role in the Uranium One deal.
The company’s presence at CPAC underscores the ways in which private interests frequently attempt to leverage the conference, and its influential attendees, often by tailoring communications and advocacy strategies to the pet issues and causes that animate the moment’s conservative voters, activists, and officials.
UEC wasn’t listed on the conference’s website as either a sponsor or an exhibitor. But a source familiar with its work there said it signed on late as an exhibitor—the lowest level of CPAC sponsorship—which comes at a $4,000 price tag.
Helping to organize UEC’s CPAC presence was Alexandra Preate, a public relations executive who works closely with former White House strategist and leading protectionist Steve Bannon, who formerly ran the pro-Trump website Breitbart. Also mulling about UEC’s exhibit was Matt Boyle, Breitbart’s political editor.
That sort of Trump-era political muscle offers the group a counterweight to other CPAC heavies that have opposed UEC’s policy agenda on more traditional conservative grounds. The Heritage Foundation, the flagship conservative think tank that also boasted a significant CPAC presence, opposes Section 232 restrictions on uranium imports, saying in a recent policy paper that its national security justification is wanting.
Outside of the conference—and of conservative circles more generally—domestic uranium companies face even deeper pockets. Just days before UEC set up shop at CPAC, Uranium One filed paperwork with the Justice Department disclosing a new foreign agent who will spearhead a policy advocacy campaign designed to stave off Section 232 action from the administration.
The Rosatom-owned Tenam Corporation and its principal, Fletcher Newton, plan to “engage and instruct” the consulting firm Energy Resources International to conduct a study on the likely adverse effects of such actions, according to documents on file with DOJ. Tenem also plans to “attend meetings with stakeholders, customers, regulators and government representatives and prepare and make presentations if requested by Client.”
It’s a more traditional, policy-heavy advocacy approach. But while Uranium One is busy commissioning studies and reaching out to key policymakers, its opposition at UEC is using the access CPAC offers its sponsors and exhibitors to pursue a strategy tailor-made for Trump-era conservatives.