August 19, 2020 Blog, Press Release

Intel Committee Report Raises Questions About McConnell’s Role to End Sanctions on Company Identified as “Proxy for the Kremlin”

The latest report from the bipartisan Senate Special Committee on Intelligence,  which details Russian interference in the 2016 election, includes information that raises new questions about McConnell’s role in a troubled economic development project in Eastern Kentucky.

The company in question, Rusal, was founded by Oleg Deripaska and is the major investor in an aluminum company, Braidy Industries, which has struggled to start operations in northeast Kentucky for more than three years. Deripaska is identified in the report as a close adviser to Russian president Vladimir Putin and involved in Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.

But it’s the committee’s declaration for the first time that Rusal is still believed to be directly involved in Russian government actions that directly contradicts McConnell’s explanation about his support for lifting sanctions on Rusal in 2019. This new context brings into question McConnell’s role in sanctions being dropped for Rusal and Rusal’s subsequent investment in Braidy shortly thereafter. Yesterday morning, McConnell “applauded” the committee’s work. 

A section of the report titled “Deripaska’s involvement in Other Russian Active Measures”
identifies Rusal as one of Deripaska’s companies considered to be “proxies for the Kremlin, including for Russian government influence efforts, economic measures and diplomatic relations” (page 153).

Sanctions were first placed on Deripaska in April 2018, but were lifted in January 2019. The Treasury Department lifted the sanctions after a bill to keep sanctions on Deripaska and Rusal fell just three votes short in the Senate. At the time, McConnell called the bill a “political stunt” despite bipartisan support.

The sanctions were lifted just weeks after Braidy first signaled difficulty raising the funds for its aluminum mill in McConnell’s home state. Rusal then announced as much as $200 million investment in Braidy, giving Rusal up to 40 percent stake in the company. 

McConnell’s role has been questioned before, helping earn him the nickname “Moscow Mitch.”

In July 2019,  Politico reported that two former McConnell staffers lobbied the senator on behalf of Braidy. One of those staffers, Hunter Bates, still lobbies on behalf of Braidy. Former U.S. Senator David Vitter — a lobbyist for Rusal — gave McConnell advance notice that Rusal would be announcing an investment in Braidy.

In August 2019 Time reported that one of Rusal’s major investors, Len Blavatnik, had donated millions of dollars to McConnell’s Senate Majority Fund PAC and the NRSC.

And in January 2020, after a shake-up in leadership, another McConnell donor, Charles Price, became chairman of Braidy.  

In a statement, Kentucky Democratic Party spokesperson Marisa McNee said McConnell needs to come forward and tell the public what he knows about how a company viewed by the United States government as a “proxy” for the Kremlin became the primary funding source for a high profile economic development project in his home state.

“It’s time for Moscow Mitch to tell the truth to the people of Kentucky. There are just too many unanswered questions, and too many people from McConnell’s orbit who have been exposed as playing a big role in this deal for him to continue to play dumb. What did he know, and when did he know it?” McNee said.