Dems push for review of Russian-backed project in Kentucky

Dems push for review of Russian-backed project in Kentucky
© Aaron Schwartz

Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenDemocrats urge Rick Perry not to roll back lightbulb efficiency rules Bipartisan senators want federal plan for sharing more info on supply chain threats PhRMA CEO warns Pelosi bill to lower drug prices would be 'devastating' for industry MORE (D-Ore.) is stepping up calls for a national security review of a Russian aluminum company's plans for a mill in Kentucky, the home state of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellFurious Republicans prepare to rebuke Trump on Syria Republicans wrestle with impeachment strategy Mattis warns 'ISIS will resurge' without U.S. pressure on Syria MORE (R), calling the project "deeply concerning."

“Rusal’s proposed investment in a Kentucky rolling mill is deeply concerning," Wyden said in a statement Wednesday. "The deal was announced just three months after the Senate voted to lift sanctions on Rusal, and now we learn that Majority Leader McConnell’s former staff have been lobbying for the project. The American people need to have confidence that this deal is in the country’s best interest."

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Wyden called for a probe by a federal agency which reviews the national security implications of foreign deals in June but is ramping up those calls after a report that two former McConnell staffers lobbied Congress and the Treasury Department on the project.

Hunter Bates and Brendan Dunn, both of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, lobbied on the development by the Russian aluminum company Rusal, Politico reported Wednesday. Akin Gump is retained by Braidy Industries, a Kentucky company, partnering with Rusal on the project. Rusal is owned by a Putin-connected Russian oligarch, Oleg Deripaska.

"The department needs to take potential harm to national security from Rusal’s proposed investment seriously,” Wyden told Politico in a statement responding to their story.

Deripaska faces U.S. sanctions, but Rusal won sanctions relief from the Treasury Department and it announced in May that its board approved a $200 million investment, The New York Times reported at the time.

The project in Kentucky has brought scrutiny from Democrats, who have been calling on the Trump administration to review Rusal’s investment into the project over concerns about Russian influence.

“The Braidy Industries mill in Ashland, Kentucky (Braidy Atlas) will produce non-proprietary aluminum sheet for the automotive and food and beverage industries. Braidy has never negotiated or signed any contract to supply aluminum to the US Government, including the DoD. Braidy has never lobbied the House or Senate on any sanctions legislation. Moreover, Braidy first engaged Akin Gump on May 20, 2019, long after congressional consideration of sanctions ended. Rusal is investing $200 million of the $1.7 billion of capital required to build the Braidy mill," a spokesperson for Braidy Industries told The Hill.

"We are thankful for the support provided by Rusal, the world’s second largest aluminum company and largest supplier of low-carbon aluminum. Leading the rebuild of Appalachia is not easy. Unemployed coal miners, steel workers, and railroad workers in Appalachia need new advanced manufacturing jobs," the spokesman added. "Braidy welcomes Rusal’s contribution to this important economic revitalization. Thanks to the hydro-produced low carbon aluminum Rusal will provide to the mill, Braidy will have the lowest carbon imprint in the global aluminum rolling mill industry. We believe prosperity and a new green deal are not mutually exclusive in Ashland, Kentucky.”

McConnell was asked on May 7 about advocating for Rusal to be removed from the sanctions list. 

“Well, the administration took the position, and I talked to the secretary of the Treasury about it, that the conditions that they thought needed to be met were met,” McConnell responded.

He added, “It was completely unrelated to anything that might happen in my home state. A number of us supported the administration. That position ended up prevailing. I think the administration made a recommendation without political consideration. And that's — that was how I voted — the reason I vote the way I did. Thanks.”

Tuesday's report, though, has sparked new questions from Democrats about the project and comes as the party presses McConnell to allow votes on election security bills.

“This news is just the latest in a series of damning reports this year about Senator McConnell’s pay-to-play corruption and self-serving interests in Washington, where he is now blocking bipartisan efforts to secure our elections and refuses to answer for the mounting questions about who he’s actually working for,” Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokesman Stewart Boss told The Hill.

Wyden has sought a review by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States of the “deal’s national security implications.” 

Updated on Aug. 1 at 12:05 a.m.