Publish Date: December 12, 2019
American Oversight filed a pair of lawsuits on Wednesday for Treasury Department records as part of its investigation of ties between administration officials and a Russian company that had announced a $200 million investment in a Kentucky aluminum plant.
The lawsuits seek communications between agency officials like Secretary Steven Mnuchin and multiple entities — including the company En+ and its subsidiary Rusal, which invested in the Kentucky plant — associated with a Russian oligarch who had previously been under U.S. sanctions. Also included in the lawsuits are communications with the office of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who had supported lifting sanctions on those entities months before the investment announcement by Braidy Industries, which will be building the aluminum plant in McConnell’s home state.
In December, the Treasury Department told Congress that it would be lifting sanctions on companies associated with Oleg Deripaska, an oligarch with ties to former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort. The sanctions had been imposed in 2018 in response to Russia’s 2016 election interference, and it was reported that the deal to lift the sanctions had been considerably less harsh than the administration had made it out to be. Mnuchin allegedly has had business dealings with an associate of Deripaska, and American Oversight filed Freedom of Information Act requests in April for Mnuchin’s communications with or about groups and individuals associated with the oligarch.
Rusal’s investment in the Braidy Industries plant was announced in May, and Braidy Industries said that the company only began negotiating with Rusal after the sanctions were lifted. But a Rusal executive separately acknowledged that the Kentucky project had been “discussed long before Rusal was sanctioned.” And in August, Politico reported that two former McConnell staffers had lobbied the Treasury and Congress on behalf of Braidy Industries. American Oversight filed additional FOIA requests for Treasury communications about the deal with McConnell’s office as well as with the office of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, who is married to McConnell and whose preferential treatment of Kentucky-specific requests was uncovered by American Oversight earlier this year.
The Treasury Department has failed to provide records in response to those FOIA requests, prompting Wednesday’s two lawsuits.