Democrats’ vote on sanctions to force showdown on Russia
Schumer wants answers on firms linked to oligarch
Senate Democrats will force a vote this week to overturn the Treasury Department’s move to relax sanctions on companies connected to a Russian oligarch, pushing the various tentacles of the 2016 Russia election meddling probe back to the forefront.
Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer announced the decision early Sunday morning, saying there are too many questions about why the Treasury Department is cutting a break to three companies associated with Oleg Deripaska.
“I have concluded that the Treasury Department’s proposal is flawed and fails to sufficiently limit Oleg Deripaska’s control and influence of these companies, and the Senate should move to block this misguided effort by the Trump Administration and keep these sanctions in place,” the New York Democrat said in a statement.
He said the easing was a particular misfire “given Mr. Deripaska’s potential involvement with [former Trump campaign chairman] Paul Manafort.”
Federal authorities say Mr. Manafort reported owing $10 million on a loan from Mr. Deripaska on a 2010 tax form.
Last week, The New York Times reported Mr. Manafort attempted to pass polling data during the 2016 campaign to Mr. Deripaska. But The Times later
issued a correction that it had the wrong oligarch identified, and Mr. Manafort had instead asked the information be sent to other oligarchs.
Whatever the facts, Democrats are eyeing a major dust-up and a chance to spend floor time blasting Mr. Trump over allegations of election conspiracy with the Russians — and the opportunity to make GOP lawmakers take a vote either defending or implicitly condemning the president.
Democrats are using a part of the law that gives Congress a 30-day window to review and attempt to block sanctions decisions.
That timeline means a vote must take place before Jan. 17.
Mr. Schumer started the clock running on Jan. 4 when he announced introduction of a resolution of disapproval, but said at the time he hadn’t made a final decision about whether to pull the trigger.
The Treasury Department on Dec. 19 announced it was removing EN+ Group Plc, JSC EuroSibEnergo, and United Co. Rusal Plc from the U.S. sanctions list, saying it had negotiated an agreement to remove them from control of Mr. Dereipaska, who is seen to have close ties to the Kremlin.
Mr. Deripaska was personally put on the sanctions list last April, with the administration saying he appeared to be involved in corruption and money laundering, and “has said that he does not separate himself from the Russian state.”
The sanctions debate comes as Democrats have ramped up their questioning and criticism of the president’s relationship with Russia.
Sen. Mark Warner on Sunday accused the president of parroting Russian policies in the first two years of his presidency, after The Washington Post reported the president has prevented other administration officials from being privy to his conversations with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“He never spoke ill about Russia,” the Virginia Democrat told CNN.
“It’s curious that throughout that whole summer when these investigations started you had Vladimir Putin policies almost being parroted by Donald Trump,” the lawmaker added.
Mr. Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate intelligence committee, said they have interviewed hundreds of witnesses in their probe regarding Russian collusion during the 2016 election and have an “interesting story” to tell once the investigation is concluded.
The White House, though, dismisses the reports about the FBI investigating the president, saying he has been tough on Russia while in office by imposing strict sanctions. On Saturday, the president told Fox News the report he was possibly working on behalf of Russia were insulting.
But Mr. Warner said Congress imposed the tough sanctions on Mr. Putin — not the president.
“The sanctions that were passed by Congress, they passed by such an overwhelming amount Trump didn’t have the power to veto it,” Mr. Warner said.
Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin told CNN his colleague was dealing in innuendo and he’s anxious to hear what Special Counsel Robert Mueller finds once his report is issued.
“I don’t want to deal in speculation. I want to deal in facts,” Mr. Johnson said.
He also suggested the president may not have certain officials privy to his talks with Mr. Putin due to previous leaks in his administration.
“He was burned by leaks in other areas and he was pretty frustrated by it so that might be one explanation,” the Wisconsin Republican said.
Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Trump ally, told ABC the president should “embrace” The New York Times story about the FBI probe into him.
“It backs up his narrative — his narrative is that FBI agents were acting in a rogue manner overstepping the normal course of business because they had something against him,” Mr. Christie said.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, said he wants to know who leaked the information to The New York Times because it shows an antiTrump agenda.
“It tells me a lot about the people running the FBI,” Mr. Graham told Fox News. “I don’t trust them as far as I’d throw them.”
The new Judiciary Committee chairman said he also wants to know how the FBI could open a counterintelligence probe into a sitting president.
“What kind of checks and balances are there?” he said.
Meanwhile, Rep. Eliot Engel, New York Democrat, who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said they’ll be looking into the president’s interactions with Russia following the reports about the FBI’s counter-intelligence investigation.
“Every time Trump meets with Putin, the country is told nothing. America deserves the truth and the Foreign Affairs Committee will seek to get to the bottom of it,” Mr. Engel tweeted on Sunday.
He added, “We will be holding hearings on the mysteries swirling around Trump’s bizarre relationship with Putin and his cronies, and how those dark dealings affect our national security.”
PUSHING PROBE: Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer says he is suspicious of the Treasury’s move for three firms linked to Oleg Deripaska.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, said leaking the information to The New York Times shows an anti-Trump agenda. “It tells me a lot about the people running the FBI,” Mr. Graham said.