Congress demands answers on Trump team's 'troubling' cave to Russia


Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin may have personally benefited from lifting U.S. sanctions on a Russian firm.

Members of Congress want to know whether Trump Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin had conflicts of interest that may have influenced his move to lift U.S. sanctions on a Russian company.

In the last week, several high-ranking Democrats in both the House and Senate demanded Mnuchin share more about his relationships with individuals who would benefit from the Trump administration's decision to remove sanctions on companies owned by the Russian oligarch Oleg V. Deripaska, a close ally of Russian dictator Vladimir Putin.

A wealthy Republican donor linked to Mnuchin stands to financially benefit from the lifted sanctions. And because Mnuchin refused to recuse himself from key decisions around the sanctions, Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) called it a "deeply troubling" conflict of interest.

In April 2018, the Trump administration announced sanctions on more than half a dozen Russian oligarchs and their companies. Those slapped with sanctions included Deripaska, who owns a giant aluminum company called Rusal.

But in late December, the Treasury Department announced it would be lifting sanctions against several of Deripaska's companies, including Rusal. One of the key financial beneficiaries of lifting these sanctions is Len Blavatnik, a major Republican donor who has a personal relationship with Mnuchin.

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) and Sen. Ron Wyden wrote to Mnuchin demanding to know more about Mnuchin's "personal and professional relationships with major Rusal shareholder Len Blavatnik."

Speier, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, called Mnuchin's refusal to recuse himself from these discussions "alarming," adding in her letter to Mnuchin, "The fact that you did not recuse yourself from deliberations surrounding the proposed termination of sanctions on RUSAL and En+ [another Russian company] is deeply troubling and a conflict of interest."

A Treasury spokesperson said Mnuchin "had no direct business relationship with Mr. Blavatnik and any suggestion of a conflict of interest is baseless."

However, the Treasury Department has not yet indicated that it will actually prove the claims to be "baseless" by handing over all the documents and information Congress is requesting.

And Congress isn't going to let that go.

"We do not believe termination of the sanctions has relieved Treasury of its obligation to explain fully this deal to Members," Ways and Means Chair Richard Neal (D-MA), House Foreign Affairs Chair Eliot L. Engel (D-NY), House Intelligence Chair Adam Schiff (D-CA), and House Financial Services Chair Maxine Waters (D-CA) wrote in a statement.

The chairs of the four powerful committees vowed to "continue our oversight of Treasury's decision by examining the terms of this deal and its implementation."

Engel, Schiff, and Waters sent a subsequent letter to Mnuchin to "formally request documents pertaining to the decision-making process" to lift these sanctions.

After overwhelming victories across the country in the 2018 midterm election, Democrats are keeping their promise to hold the Trump administration's feet to the fire. It's a new day for Congress, and that means real accountability for all of Trump's Cabinet officials — including Secretary Mnuchin.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.