Democrats question Treasury chief about Russian oligarch
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told lawmakers in a classified briefing Thursday that the Trump administration will keep strict U.S. sanctions on Oleg Deripaska and any companies he owns, but Democrats say they still have concerns that the government is being too soft on the Russian oligarch.
In one of Democrats’ first oversight moves as the new majority in the House, seven committee chairmen wrote to Mnuchin on Tuesday and asked him to explain by the end of the week why the U.S. decided to ease sanctions on three companies linked to Deripaska. Mnuchincame to Capitol Hill to answer questions about the matter, but Democrats leaving the meeting said his answers weren’t sufficient.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she was “unimpressed” with Mnuchin’s briefing, saying that he was not fully forthcoming in the classified setting and was “wasting the time of the members of Congress.”
Asked if the House might move to block Treasury’s actions, Pelosi said “we’ll see.”
The Democrats were asking Mnuchin about a December announcement that the U.S. would lift sanctions on the three companies — the aluminum manufacturing giant Rusal, EN+ Group, and the Russian power company JSC EuroSibEnergo. EN+ Group is a holding company that owns nearly 50 percent of Rusal. In the letter, the Democrats said the sanctions deal appears to allow Deripaska to keep “significant ownership” of one of the companies.
Congress has 30 days to block the move to terminate the sanctions, but Democrats have asked for an extension. Treasury announced the move just before the December recess. Democrats said they haven’t had enough time to review it.
The Treasury Department maintains that Deripaska will remain blacklisted as part of sanctions that targeted tycoons close to the Kremlin, and that the companies have committed to diminish Deripaska’s ownership and sever his control.
In a statement released ahead of the briefing, Mnuchin reiterated that Deripaska remains under sanctions, “his property and interests remain blocked, and any companies he controls are also sanctioned.”
The three companies were originally targeted because they were owned or majority-controlled by Deripaska. “These entities are undergoing significant restructuring and governance changes that sever Deripaska’s control and significantly diminish his ownership,” Mnuchin said in the statement. “They have committed to provide Treasury with an unprecedented level of transparency into their dealings to ensure that Deripaska does not reassert control. As a result, these entities will no longer be designated for sanctions.”
Mnuchin also spoke briefly after the hearing to dispute Pelosi’s assertion that he was not forthcoming, saying he “answered all their questions.”
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin speaks to reporters after giving a classified briefing to House members on Thursday.