The federal government remains partially shutdown at present, but other pressing issues haven’t just vanished. This Thursday, House Democrats met with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin after demanding he come testify on the recent decision to lift sanctions on three companies connected to Oleg Deripaska, a Russian billionaire who’s been targeted in response to Kremlin meddling in the 2016 elections. After their meeting, House Democrats including Speaker Nancy Pelosi slammed Mnuchin for skipping around the issue at hand.
Nancy Pelosi on Mnuchin briefing: “This — with stiff competition, mind you — was one of the worst classified briefings we’ve received from the Trump administration.” https://t.co/VeiO8Nt1Zb pic.twitter.com/vXm9gQWGZI
— The Hill (@thehill) January 11, 2019
As she put it, seeming to indicate that most of the time Mnuchin pointed to an already unclassified document for his answers:
‘I went in sympathetic to the process that has been established for sanctions and the relief of sanctions. I came out just unimpressed because of the fact that the secretary of the treasury is here — he barely testified at all.’
She asserted that the whole fiasco was “one of the worst classified briefings we’ve received from the Trump administration.”
Mnuchin whined that he was “somewhat shocked at the assessment” Pelosi offered, declining to explicitly say whether or not his team would give the Democrats more time to review their decision before following through. He simply noted that “there was no objective to do anything over the holidays.”
The individual at the heart of the matter — Deripaska — has business ties to former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, actually ending up suing him in an effort to recover money he’s claimed he’s owed. Manafort has since been declared guilty of financial fraud charges and pleaded guilty to other political conspiracy charges, although his future is in doubt thanks to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team declaring he’d broken his plea agreement and lied.
Before that ensued, during the 2016 campaign season, Manafort at one point offered to give Deripaska private briefings on the state of the presidential race, offering yet another thread tying the Trump team to Moscow.
Deripaska’s own future as a businessman remains in doubt too. The billionaire with close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin remains himself under sanction. The companies that were the focus of the discussion on Thursday on Capitol Hill including Rusal, EN+, and EuroSibEnergo were formerly majority owned by Deripaska, but he has reduced his stake to the point of the Trump administration declaring there’s no longer any need to have the sanctions in place.
They announced their decision just a few days before the presently proceeding government shutdown, which has been sparked by Trump’s refusal to approve any government funding if he doesn’t get billions of dollars for a border wall.
Despite the shutdown, the newly in place Democratic majority in the House has been working to closely monitor the Trump team with their newfound power. On February 7, in what’s no doubt some of the most high profile public testimony in awhile, former Trump personal lawyer Michael Cohen will be appearing before Congress. He’s been involved in everything from the illegal hush money scheme targeting women like Stormy Daniels to the Russia scandal via the never materialized Trump Tower Moscow.
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