- On Thursday, House Democrats selected the first member of the Trump White House to appear and testify about actions related to Russia—and that choice was Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin. Mnuchin wasn’t brought in answer questions about all those images that show him fondling dollars at the Mint or otherwise looking like a third-tier Bond villain. Instead, he came to give a behind-closed-doors explanation for why the Treasury Department has moved to drop sanctions against Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska.
That would be the same Oleg Deripaska who was Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort’s boss in Ukraine. The Deripaska who was involved in money-laundering millions into the United States through Cyprus-based shell companies. The Deripaska who owns a significant part of the company behind Russia’s VTB bank. And the Oleg Deripaska who sent Konstantin Kilimnik to meet with Manafort, plot the future of Ukraine, and receive internal polling information from the Trump campaign as partial repayment for the debts he was owed.
Also among Deripaska’s clutch of companies is the formerly state-owned Russian aluminum giant Rusal. Mnuchin has been protective of Rusal both in discussions of sanctions against Deripaska and in broader discussions about the effects of steel and aluminum sanctions.
Not only has Mnuchin moved to remove sanctions from Deripaska’s companies, but Treasury was very, very slow to implement those sanctions in the first place. So slow that they’ve never really gone into effect. Implementation of the sanctions was delayed again and again, right up until the moment when Trump slipped a decision simply to remove the sanctions in during the dying days of the lame-duck Republican Congress. Timing that, as the New York Times reports, was intended to “reduce the likelihood that Congress might block the move.”
Now that Congress is not filled with lame Republicans, lawmakers sent Mnuchin a letter this week asking him to appear and provide an explanation for the sanction relief. Mnuchin explained that the deal with Deripaska would require that the latter reduce, though not eliminate, his ownership stake in VTB, although he would retain ownership and control of several other firms.