The GOP continue to face a problem of their foreign connections. One of the latest figures to face scrutiny on this front in the form of a critical billboard plopped along a Kentucky highway is none other than Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who voted in favor of lifting sanctions on the major Russian corporation Rusal after having received about $3.5 million on donations from businesses led by Len Blavatnik, who’s a business partner of Rusal leader Oleg Deripaska — the same man who’s faced steep sanctions for his part in meddling in the 2016 U.S. elections.
That’s not where the story ends, either. This April, months after McConnell voted in favor of lifting sanctions against Rusal and the Trump administration undertook that controversial step, Braidy Industries announced that they had a new investor for a plant of theirs in Mitch’s home state. That investor was — wait for it — Rusal, which shared it would be maintaining a 40 percent stake in the plant’s operations thanks to some $200 million in funding they’d be providing.
A new billboard on the side of Interstate 75 in Kentucky that’s the work of the so-called Mad Dog PAC reads:
‘Russian Mob Money… Really, Mitch?’
The organization behind the display, which has launched similarly critical billboard efforts elsewhere in the country, says that there’s “more to come.”
FINALLY! @nytimes notices @SenateMajLdr – Rusal – Deripaska troika! FINALLY – congress asking questions. #FunnyBusiness Proud to say https://t.co/xkYG2CYFkW is ahead of the curve. Here’s our newest KY billboard. More to come! I-75 Berea
— MadDogPAC (@maddogpac) May 22, 2019
Rusal was only able to earn sanctions removal after Deripaska gave up his controlling stake in their operations, although even still the easing was controversial at best, even among members of the Republican Party, who questioned whether adequate safeguards had been met against the company potentially serving as an arm of Russian interference. Deripaska still maintains a financial stake in their operations; it’s simply been dialed down.
Earlier this year, McConnell got an apparent notification about Rusal’s incoming investment in his state from former Louisiana Republican Senator David Vitter, who’d been lobbying on behalf of Rusal as part of the effort to get those sanctions lifted. Notably enough, as that got underway, after Vitter’s wife Wendy’s nomination to be a federal judge had languished for a year and a half without any movement in the full Senate, the Senate suddenly took up her nomination and confirmed her by a mostly party-line vote.
Vitter and McConnell reject the notion that Wendy’s confirmation as a judge and David’s role in getting investment in the Senate Majority Leader’s state are connected, and McConnell similarly has dismissed the notion that any investment in his campaign or state led to his decision to support lifting sanctions against Rusal, which a majority of even House Republicans voted to keep in place. Still, Democrats across both chambers of Congress have written to the Treasury Department asking for an investigation into the investment.
Deripaska worked at times with former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, who’s currently serving a seven and a half year jail sentence for financial and political crimes connected to his lobbying overseas. Apparently however, GOP figures like McConnell are not too concerned about the implications and ramifications of that work.
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