House committee chiefs press Mnuchin for answers on sanctions relief for Russian oligarch

A group of Democrats leading seven powerful House committees are calling on the Trump administration to delay its decision to ease sanctions on businesses linked to a prominent Russian oligarch, while demanding further information about the move.

The seven chairmen requested on Tuesday that Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinMnuchin refuses to testify at hearing on shutdown impacts Trump cancels delegation's trip to Davos amid shutdown On The Money: Shutdown Day 27 | Trump fires back at Pelosi by canceling her foreign travel | Dems blast 'petty' move | Trump also cancels delegation to Davos | House votes to disapprove of Trump lifting Russia sanction MORE brief lawmakers about the decision to terminate sanctions against three companies tied to Oleg Deripaska, a billionaire aluminum magnate with close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The lawmakers argued in a letter to the Treasury chief that they have not been given sufficient time to review the sanctions decision before the government shutdown began. They asked for Mnuchin to fulfill this request by Friday.

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"The notification to Congress was delivered just prior to an adjournment for an extended recess and during which time a government shutdown ensued, which makes it difficult to complete our review of this matter within the 30-day period provided in CAATSA," the lawmakers wrote, referring to bipartisan legislation passed last year authorizing new sanctions on Russia.

"We request that you be available for a meeting with all interested Members, in an appropriate setting to allow for a full discussion of all aspects of the agreement, the sanctions termination and the impact these decisions would have on the U.S. effort to end Russia's malign activities aimed at our country," they continued, describing Deripaska as "a Russian oligarch who has abetted the Putin Regime's malign activity against the United States."

The lawmakers scrutinized Deripaska's current business ties connected to these three companies — Rusal, EN+ and EuroSibEnergo. While Deripaska has reduced his ownership stake in each of the companies to below 50 percent, the Democratic lawmakers expressed concerns about his stake in the company, pointing out that  he keeps "intact significant ownership of EN+."

They argued that they must have these questions resolved "in order to fully assess whether the U.S. agreement and the sanctions terminations are justified."

The lawmakers who signed onto the letter include Reps. Richard NealRichard Edmund NealMnuchin refuses to testify at hearing on shutdown impacts On The Money: Shutdown Day 27 | Trump fires back at Pelosi by canceling her foreign travel | Dems blast 'petty' move | Trump also cancels delegation to Davos | House votes to disapprove of Trump lifting Russia sanction House chairman calls for Mnuchin to testify on shutdown's economic effects MORE (D-Mass.) who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee, Maxine WatersMaxine Moore WatersOn The Money: Shutdown Day 27 | Trump fires back at Pelosi by canceling her foreign travel | Dems blast 'petty' move | Trump also cancels delegation to Davos | House votes to disapprove of Trump lifting Russia sanction Financial system can forge bipartisanship in Congress Ocasio-Cortez, freshmen poised to take on Wall Street MORE (D-Calif.) who chairs the Financial Service Committee, Eliot EngelEliot Lance EngelOvernight Defense: Trump rejects Graham call to end shutdown | Coast Guard on track to miss Tuesday paychecks | Dems eye Trump, Russia probes | Trump talks with Erdogan after making threat to Turkey's economy Dems zero in on Trump and Russia Top Dem: Congress may have 'no choice' but to subpoena Trump interpreter MORE (D-N.Y.) who chairs the Foreign Affairs Committee, Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffTrump cancels delegation's trip to Davos amid shutdown Trump fires back at Pelosi, cancels her foreign travel FISA shocker: DOJ official warned Steele dossier was connected to Clinton, might be biased MORE (D-Calif.) who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, Elijah CummingsElijah Eugene CummingsOvernight Health Care: Dem chair plans hearing on Medicare for all | Senate GOP talks drug prices with Trump health chief | PhRMA CEO hopeful Trump reverses course on controversial pricing proposal Key House Dem: I don't want to 'punish' drug companies House Dems fire first salvo in drug pricing fight MORE (D-Md.) who chairs the Oversight and Reform Committee, Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) who chairs the Judiciary Committee, and Bennie ThompsonBennie Gordon ThompsonLast-minute deal extends program to protect chemical plants Trump’s polls sag amid wall fight TSA reports twice the normal rate of security officers calling in sick MORE (D-Miss.) who chairs the Homeland Security Committee.

The administration announced the plan to ease up sanctions on Deripaska's businesses in December, after they had been imposed in April under CAATSA, a law that was passed by Congress to punish Russia for interfering in the 2016 presidential election. The decision came three days before the government entered a partial shutdown on Dec. 22.

Under the administration's current plan to ease sanctions on the businesses, Deripaska will remain sanctioned and his property blocked. 

“Treasury sanctioned these companies because of their ownership and control by sanctioned Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, not for the conduct of the companies themselves,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement at the time.

“These companies have committed to significantly diminish Deripaska’s ownership and sever his control. The companies will be subject to ongoing compliance and will face severe consequences if they fail to comply,” he continued.