Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell voted to drop sanctions from a company connected to one of Putin's closest allies, and a new report claims that the actions may directly benefit one of the major donors to the Republican Party.
A report from the political group the Democratic Coalition revealed ties that the Kentucky senator has to a company called Access Industries, which is owned by Russian oligarch Len Blavatnik. Access Industries donated $3.5 million to the Senate Leadership Fund, a super PAC run by McConnell's former chief of staff.
As the report noted, Blavatnik is a business partner with Oleg Deripaska, who the report claims is "one of Vladimir Putin's sanctioned oligarchs" and the owner of RusAl, the once-sanctioned company that McConnell and other Senate Republicans voted to remove sanctions imposed in 2016 amid evidence of Russia's interference in the U.S. presidential election.
"The Trump Administration formally dropped sanctions on the night of January 27th, 2019, which were imposed against Deripaska, Blavatnik's long time business partner, for his high-level role in Russia's election attack against the United States in 2016," the report noted. "Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin is also a longtime business partner of Blavatnik."
As the Guardian noted, Trump administration officials and other Republicans in Congress said that the sanctions could have a detrimental impact on the global aluminum market and claimed that Deripaska had lowered his stake in the companies, which they saw as proof that the sanctions had worked. They also argued that the companies which had been sanctioned made changes to their boards to include more Americans and Europeans."The companies have also agreed to unprecedented transparency for Treasury into their operations by undertaking extensive, ongoing auditing, certification, and reporting requirements," the Treasury Department said in a statement.
But the measure drew widespread criticism, especially among those who said that the Trump administration has been too soft on Russia for its interference in the 2016 presidential election. Trump himself has frequently called into question the assessment of U.S. intelligence agencies, saying he believes Russia's denial that they did not interfere.
The action to lift Deripaska's sanctions has led to a backlash from Democrats, including three top House Democrats who demanded that Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin turn over documents showing how his department came to the decision to lift the sanctions. As the Associated Press reported, Reps. Adam Schiff, Maxine Waters, and Eliot Engel informed Mnuchin by letter that they were seeking a wide range of material, including secret intelligence reporting, records of meeting minutes, and even emails that discussed the lifted sanctions.