Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is denying that he knew a project in his home state would benefit from the U.S. ending sanctions against a Russian oligarch.
In January, nearly a dozen Republicans broke away from McConnell and joined Democrats in voting to block the Trump administration from lifting sanctions on companies owned by Oleg Deripaska, an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin. They didn't reach the 60 votes necessary to advance the resolution, and a few weeks later, the government lifted the sanctions against Deripaska and Rusal, Russia's largest aluminum producer. Three months after that, The Washington Post reports, Rusal announced it was partnering with Braidy Industries on an aluminum-rolling mill in Ashland, Kentucky, with Rusal supplying $200 million in capital for a 40 percent stake in the plant.
The night before the Senate voted on lifting sanctions, Braidy Industries' founder, Craig Bouchard, had dinner in Zurich with Rusal's head of sales. Bouchard told the Post they did not discuss the Senate vote, and Braidy Industries did not tell any government officials that lifting sanctions would be beneficial. Rusal's parent company, EN+, told the Post the Kentucky project had nothing to do with its aggressive lobbying to get sanctions dropped, and McConnell's spokesman, David Popp, said McConnell "was not aware of any potential Russian investor before the vote."
Democratic lawmakers are suspicious of the timing, and have asked the government to review the deal. "It is shocking how blatantly transactional this arrangement looks," Michael McFaul, U.S. ambassador to Russia during the Obama administration, told the Post. Bouchard doesn't see it that way. "You just can't be so picky," he said. "Whoever is going to help us go in and rebuild this place that's been decimated, we just welcome it, with open arms."