NEW REPORT: “McConnell-Backed Effort to Lift Russian Sanctions” Looks “Blatantly Transactional”

The steady stream of stories shining a light on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s obstruction and self-serving politics continues this week, with a new look at McConnell’s role in lifting sanctions on the owners of a Russian company that then announced a $200 million investment in a Kentucky aluminum plant.

It’s the latest in a series of reports outlining the corrosive influence of the special interests in McConnell’s own office and the ways in which McConnell has used his position to help himself and grease the wheels for his political allies:

After more than three decades in the Senate, McConnell has become its most self-serving creature – and his record underscores how he’s become everything that’s wrong with Washington. Recent coverage has shown how he’s “long argued for more money in politics,” dragged the Senate to unprecedented levels of gridlock and dysfunction, and blocked action to prevent gun violence or foreign interference in American elections.


Washington Post: How a McConnell-backed effort to lift Russian sanctions boosted a Kentucky project

By Tom Hamburger and Rosalind S. Helderman

August 13, 2019

Key Points:

  • In January, as the Senate debated whether to permit the Trump administration to lift sanctions on Russia’s largest aluminum producer, two men with millions of dollars riding on the outcome met for dinner at a restaurant in Zurich.
  • On one side of the table sat the head of sales for Rusal, the Russian aluminum producer that would benefit most immediately from a favorable Senate vote. The U.S. government had sanctioned Rusal as part of a campaign to punish Russia for “malign activity around the globe,” including attempts to sway the 2016 presidential election.
  • On the other side sat Craig Bouchard, an American entrepreneur who had gained favor with officials in Kentucky, the home state of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
  • …the timing of their meeting shows how much a major venture in McConnell’s home state had riding on the Democratic-backed effort in January to keep sanctions in place. 
  • By the next day, McConnell had successfully blocked the bill, despite the defection of 11 Republicans.
  • Within weeks, the U.S. government had formally lifted sanctions on Rusal, citing a deal with the company that reduced the ownership interest of its Kremlin-linked founder, Oleg Deripaska. And three months later, Rusal announced plans for an extraordinary partnership with Bouchard’s company, providing $200 million in capital to buy a 40 percent stake in the new aluminum plant in Ashland, Ky.
  • Rusal’s parent company, EN+, said in a statement that the Kentucky project played no role in the company’s vigorous lobbying campaign to persuade U.S. officials to do away with sanctions.
  • But critics said the timing is disturbing.
  • “It is shocking how blatantly transactional this arrangement looks,” said Michael McFaul, who served as the U.S. ambassador to Russia during the Obama administration and now teaches at Stanford University.
  • Democratic senators have called for a government review of the deal, prompting a Rusal executive in Moscow last week to threaten to pull out of the investment.
  • The Rusal-backed project is one of several issues fueling broader scrutiny of McConnell’s posture toward Russia and its efforts to manipulate American voters.
  • In 2016, McConnell privately expressed skepticism about the intelligence reports on Russia’s activities in the election and resisted a push by the Obama administration to issue a bipartisan statement condemning the Kremlin. Last month, he blocked consideration of election security bills that have bipartisan support, despite warnings from the FBI and the intelligence community about the risks of foreign interference in the 2020 election.
  • With strong Republican support, the House on Jan. 14 overwhelmingly rejected the administration plan to lift sanctions, 362 to 53.
  • But the effort failed in the Senate, thanks in part to McConnell and strong lobbying efforts.
  • The effort to lift sanctions was led by Lord Gregory Barker, the new British chief executive of EN+, and included former senator David Vitter of Louisiana, now a lobbyist at Mercury Public Affairs, according to public lobbying records.
  • Vitter was spotted in McConnell’s office days before the vote.
  • At McConnell’s urging, the measure was defeated on Jan. 16, falling three votes short of the required three-fifths majority needed to overcome a threatened filibuster.

Read the full story here.


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