Democratic lawmakers call for delay in easing sanctions on close ally of Russia’s Vladimir Putin

Democratic lawmakers call for delay in easing sanctions on close ally of Russia’s Vladimir Putin

House Democrats said Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin failed to convince them in a closed briefing Thursday that the United States should lift sanctions on a Russian aluminum company controlled by a Vladimir Putin ally, calling for more information and a delay.

Treasury notified Congress last month that it planned to lift sanctions on Rusal, an aluminum company controlled by Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska.

Treasury said the Russian business leader will remain under personal sanctions but that sanctions on Rusal and two other firms could be lifted because Deripaska had agreed to reduce his ownership in the companies below 50 percent.

“This, with stiff competition, mind you, was one of the worst classified briefings we’ve received from the Trump administration,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said after the briefing. “The secretary barely testified. He answered some questions, but he didn’t give testimony.”

Asked whether House Democrats were considering introducing a resolution of disapproval to try to stop Treasury from easing the sanctions, as Democratic leader Charles E. Schumer has done in the Senate, Pelosi said: “We’ll see.”

“I was somewhat surprised to see the speaker’s comment," Mnuchin said after the briefing. "We gave them close to an hour and a half and answered all their questions.”

Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Tex.) said he had requested during the briefing for Treasury to delay lifting the sanctions until it can answer further questions about the terms of Deripaska reducing his ownership in the companies.

“I think there’s a real question about whether he’s effectively divested his stake, and we need more facts about that,” Doggett said.

In an emailed statement before the briefing, Mnuchin said the sanctions had met their goal. “One of the goals of sanctions is to change behavior, and the proposed delistings of companies that Deripaska will no longer control show that sanctions can result in positive change,” Mnuchin said.

Washington’s sanctions on Rusal and two other Deripaska-controlled firms, enacted last year, clobbered the oligarch financially, sinking the market value of his publicly traded companies. They also caused havoc far beyond Russia. Global aluminum prices spiked, battering U.S. and European companies and prompting complaints from European allies.

A holding company connected to Deripaska and Rusal lobbied the Trump administration heavily to lift the sanctions. The chairman of the company hired Mercury Public Affairs and former U.S. senator David Vitter to call on the State Department and other officials.

The Treasury Department informed Congress on Dec. 19 that it intended to lift the sanctions on Rusal and the other two firms in 30 days because the companies had agreed to reduce Deripaska’s ownership stake below 50 percent.

The letter suggested Treasury wanted to lift the sanctions in part because of the havoc they caused in metals markets. The letter noted that aluminum prices soared and that “Rusal subsidiaries in the United States, Ireland, Sweden, Jamaica, Guinea and elsewhere faced imminent closure.”

Deripaska will not receive any cash as a result of the transactions necessary to reduce his ownership of Rusal or the other companies, Treasury said in the letter. And any future dividends he is entitled to from his reduced ownership stake will be placed into a blocked account, it said.