Senate Democrats plan to push a vote this week on the Trump administration’s efforts to ease sanctions against a Russian oligarch’s companies.
Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said on Saturday that sanctions on Oleg Deripaska’s businesses should remain in place. He announced that he will force a vote disapproving the Trump administration’s decision through a 2017 sanctions law, the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, which requires a simple majority vote. Senate Democrats would need the support of a few Republicans to pass the bill and send it on to the House.
The sanctions were first imposed in April 2018, in response to Russian interference in the 2016 election. But after several delays, the Treasury Department announced last month that while it would maintain sanctions on Deripaska himself — who has close ties to the Kremlin — it would lift the sanctions on his core businesses (Rusal, EN+, and EuroSibEnergo). As part of the promised sanctions relief, Deripaska would reduce his stake in the companies.
“These entities are undergoing significant restructuring and governance changes that sever Deripaska’s control and significantly diminish his ownership,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement on Thursday, shortly before briefing House members on the sanctions relief.
“Treasury will be vigilant in ensuring that EN+ and Rusal meet these commitments. If these companies fail to comply with the terms, they will face very real and swift consequences, including the reimposition of sanctions.”
House Democrats blasted Mnuchin’s briefing, with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) calling it a “waste of time.”
In an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper on Sunday, Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), the vice chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, accused the Trump administration of being slow to implement the sanctions, which came about due to concern in both parties.
“The sanctions that were passed by Congress, they passed at such an overwhelming amount that Putin didn’t even have — Trump did not even have the power to veto it,” Warner said.
“I think many of us would argue that while those sanctions have been put in place, the Trump administration has been very slow at implementing those sanctions. And then when the sanctions really start to bite … the Treasury Department dreams up this series of actions where you take a company that was completely founded by Oleg Deripaska — where he placed all the management team in place — and they have a scheme to try to take his ownership level down from 70 percent to roughly 40, 45 [percent].”
“Jake, I’ve been in business longer than politics. If I’ve still got my whole management team in there and I’m still the largest shareholder at 40 or 45 percent, I’m going to still control that company. That is why I — and I know a number of members — I think Democrats and Republicans, will vote to override this week the removal of these sanctions.”
The sanctions’ effects have spread beyond Russia. Earlier this month, the European Union sent a letter addressed to Schumer and Pelosi, urging Congress to support the Treasury Department’s move and expressing concern about the effects of the sanctions on European companies.
Schumer said the sanctions should remain in place while Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election continues.
Deripaska previously worked with former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who gave him political briefings during the 2016 presidential campaign.