Not since the days of Joseph McCarthy has a member of the Senate been as recklessly irresponsible as Mitch McConnell. Not since the Gilded Age in the late 19th century has anyone in Congress been as corrupt as Mitch McConnell. Not since the dark days of John C. Calhoun has there been a member of the Senate more harmful to the well-being of America than Mitch McConnell. These facts alone would justify politically destroying the vile malignancy that is McConnell.
But McConnell is also deeply involved with Russian organized crime. An utterly shocking instance of corrupt dealing has gone under-reported: the deal Mitch McConnell made with Putin Buddy and Mob boss Oleg Deripaska. If the United States is to survive, McConnell will have to be politically destroyed and driven out of the Senate. In trying to renew interest in this issue, I propose to do exactly that.
1. Who is Oleg Deripaska?
Oleg Deripaska was born in Dzerzhinsk, USSR, in January 1968. From Frontline’s 2003 documentary, “How to Make a Billion Dollars”:
Oleg Deripaska...is Russia's youngest billionaire at age 35. Deripaska accumulated a business empire through a series of ruthless and elaborate, though technically legal, takeover raids. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, he was a 23-year-old student at Moscow State University. He soon got a job in the fledgling metals trading market. By 1994, he was chief financial officer of Aluminprodukt. Through the company, he bought a stake in a Siberian smelter plant, beginning his ascent to the top of one of Russia's roughest industries. Deripaska became the plant's manager to protect it from a takeover by its former owner, who once threatened him with a grenade launcher.
It goes on to say…
Later, Deripaska waged his own revolt to take over the shares of the London-based Transworld Group, then owned by controversial multimillionaire Mikhail Chernoi. Fellow oligarch Roman Abramovich became Deripaska's partner; in early 2000, the two created a joint venture called Russian Aluminum (RusAl). Today, RusAl has $4 billion in annual sales and is the world's second-largest aluminum producer. Deripaska owns 75 percent of the company. His other businesses include power stations, Russia's largest car and commercial vehicle manufacturer, and the country's largest insurance company.
Deripaska is very bright, from all accounts. The details of his rise in the often-brutal Russian metals trade are somewhat obscure. Dozens of businessmen involved in the aluminum industry met violent ends, but Deripaska claims he had nothing to do with all that. And of course, accusations of money laundering have flown in regards to Deripaska. Financial Times reports that the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control, which is involved in sanctions, identified Deripaska as one of the major players in laundering money for Putin.
From The Hill:
Deripaska is considered among the Russian oligarchs closest to Putin. A 2006 U.S. diplomatic cable reported by The Associated Press described him as "among the 2-3 oligarchs Putin turns to on a regular basis" and "a more-or-less permanent fixture on Putin’s trips abroad."
But his ties to the presidency go beyond the country's current chief executive.
His wife, Polina Yumasheva, is the daughter of former Russian President Boris Yeltsin's chief of staff. Deripaska's father-in-law also married Yeltsin's daughter, making the aluminum magnate a grandson of Yeltsin by marriage.
Deripaska has deep ties to Trump friend and former campaign manager Paul Manafort. As you may recall, Manafort was deeply involved in Ukrainian politics. I’ve written about this before. Manafort was a key figure in getting the pro-Putin Viktor Yanukovych elected as Ukrainian president. A brief quote from a Time magazine article:
A U.S. embassy cable sent from Kiev to Washington in 2006 described Manafort’s job as giving an “extreme makeover” to a presidential hopeful named Viktor Yanukovych, who had the backing of the Kremlin and most of Ukraine’s wealthiest tycoons. His Party of Regions, the cable said, was “a haven” for “mobsters and oligarchs.”
From Craig Unger’s House of Trump, House of Putin, writing about this period:
Now the money began to roll in. In late 2004, Deripaska dispatched Manafort to the eastern Ukraine city of Donetsk, the Wall Street Journal reported, where he met Rinat Akhmetov. A billionaire financier behind the Party of Regions, Akhmetov agreed to pay Manafort’s firm roughly $12 million to provide corporate strategy and branding assistance for his holding company, System Capital Management.
Less than a year later, in 2005, according to the Associated Press, Manafort began a secret deal with Deripaska whereby Manafort’s firm was paid $10 million per year to influence politics, business dealings, and media coverage inside the US, Europe, and the former Soviet republics in a way that would benefit Vladimir Putin’s government.
Deripaska was “among the 2–3 oligarchs Putin turns to on a regular basis,” according to a diplomatic cable published by WikiLeaks, so Manafort clearly knew whose interests were being served. “We are now of the belief that this model can greatly benefit the Putin Government,” Manafort wrote in the proposal. He added that his firm would “be offering a great service that can re-focus, both internally and externally, the policies of the Putin government.”
According to Unger, the Russians had their claws deep into the Republican Party by 2014:
Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, who had hired former senator and Republican presidential nominee Bob Dole as a lobbyist in 2005, later tried, unsuccessfully, to woo Senator John McCain, the GOP presidential nominee in 2008. Russian conglomerate Alfa paid nearly $2 million in lobbying fees to Barbour Griffith & Rogers, the lobbying firm cofounded by former Mississippi governor Haley Barbour.
Similarly, in 2014, former Senate majority leader Trent Lott (R-MS) and former senator John Breaux (D-LA) became the main lobbyists for Gazprombank, a subsidiary of Russia’s largest supplier of natural gas. More recently, in 2016, millions of dollars in Russian money was funneled to Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell and other high-profile Republicans to finance GOP senatorial candidates. (My emphasis.)
Foreign nationals are prohibited from contributing to Senate races, but, according to the Dallas Morning News, during the 2015–16 election season, Ukrainian-born oligarch Leonard “Len” Blavatnik, who has British-American dual citizenship, put a small fraction of his $20 billion fortune into GOP Senate races. McConnell, who took $2.5 million for his GOP Senate Leadership Fund from two of Blavatnik’s companies, was the leading recipient. (My emphasis.) Others included political action committees for Senator Marco Rubio, Senator Lindsey Graham, Ohio governor John Kasich, and Arizona senator John McCain.
I did a post about Manafort some time ago. Here is the “Blameless Life” of Paul Manafort. Here is a relevant excerpt from it:
Manafort has gotten himself involved with a number of other shady characters. In The Atlantic for October 2, 2017, that publication revealed that it had examined emails from 2016 sent by Manafort in his efforts to ingratiate himself with Russian oligarch and Putin ally Oleg Vladimirovich Deripaska. This was in the period when Manafort was Trump's campaign manager.
The emails were provided to The Atlantic on condition of anonymity. They are part of a trove of documents turned over by lawyers for Trump’s presidential campaign to investigators looking into the Kremlin’s interference in the 2016 election. A source close to Manafort confirmed their authenticity. Excerpts from these emails were first reported by The Washington Post, but the full text of these exchanges, provided to The Atlantic, shows that Manafort attempted to leverage his leadership role in the Trump campaign to curry favor with a Russian oligarch close to the Russian president, Vladimir Putin. Manafort was deeply in debt, and did not earn a salary from the Trump campaign.
So Oleg Deripaska, one of Putin’s best buddies, deeply linked into the Russian Mob, and involved in Ukrainian politics, was well-known in prominent Republican circles. Mitch McConnell certainly knew who he was. Now this is where things really get interesting.
2. How did the deal between Deripaska and McConnell happen?
In April 2018, the U.S. Treasury Department cracked down on Deripaska, imposing heavy sanctions on him. Trump moved to undermine these sanctions almost immediately. The Washington Post has the details:
Trump’s most egregious act of sanctions malfeasance, however, came in April 2018. That was when the Treasury Department — acting with support from then-national security adviser H.R. McMaster, on his way out of the White House — imposed the first consequential Russia sanctions of the Trump years, targeting the oligarch Oleg Deripaska and his aluminum company, Rusal. The impact was swift: Rusal’s shares nosedived by more than 50 percent.
Instead of using this leverage to extract concessions from Moscow, the Trump administration immediately defanged the sanctions and eventually expunged Rusal from the sanctions list. To make matters worse, the Trump administration cut a deal with Deripaska, whom the Senate Intelligence Committee described as a “proxy for the Russian state and intelligence services,” allowing him to maintain control of his businesses through allies. This episode sent an unambiguous message to both Moscow and the private sector: The Trump administration had no stomach for tough sanctions against Russia.
Indeed, the sanctions against Deripaska were only temporary, as it turned out. In December 2018, after only six months, the Trump administration was seeking to lift them entirely. Treasury Secretary Mnuchin argued that Deripaska’s control of his company had been weakened, but such was not the case. In order to kill the lifting of the sanctions, both houses of Congress had to move to stop them. Here’s what happened:
With strong Republican support, the House on Jan. 14  overwhelmingly rejected the administration plan to lift sanctions, 362 to 53.
But the effort failed in the Senate, thanks in part to McConnell and strong lobbying efforts. (Emphasis added.)
The effort to lift sanctions was led by Lord Gregory Barker, the new British chief executive of EN+, and included Republican ex-senator David Vitter (my emphasis) of Louisiana, now a lobbyist at Mercury Public Affairs, according to public lobbying records...
Just before the vote, Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) warned the Senate that providing sanctions relief “gives Vladimir Putin exactly what he wants” at a time that “Russia continues to run rampant over international norms, to meddle in democratic elections, and to destabilize the world.”
McConnell called Schumer’s resolution “a political stunt.” And he rejected claims that he or others in the GOP were soft on Putin.
Hmmm. Old Mitchy Boy seemed pretty committed to lifting the sanctions on Deripaska. Now it gets even more interesting. From the watchdog group Restore Public Trust:
- One day before McConnell led the vote to drop sanctions against Rusal, a McConnell ally, Craig Bouchard, had dinner with Kremlin-linked oligarch and Rusal owner, Oleg Deripaska.
- Talks about the Rusal-backed Kentucky project were in the works “long before” Rusal was sanctioned in early 2018.
- Rusal lobbyist and former Senator David Vitter was spotted outside McConnell’s office waiting for a meeting days before the bill to lift the sanctions was brought to the Senate floor.
And from there matters proceeded. Our friends at The Moscow Project are on the case:
- Merely three months after the sanctions were lifted (April 2019), Rusal announced it would be investing $200 million into a Kentucky aluminum mill run by Braidy Industries, becoming a 40% stakeholder in the project.
- According to The Wall Street Journal, this mill would be “the largest new aluminum plant built in the U.S. in nearly four decades.”
- The deal was hardly a coincidence – the investment was made possible because former top McConnell staffers lobbied on behalf of Braidy Industries for the project.
- McConnell, it seems, had his eye on this project for a while. In August 2018, just months after Rusal was first sanctioned, McConnell spoke on the Senate floor about Braidy Industries, highlighting the jobs that the new aluminum mill would be bringing to Kentucky.
- The state of Kentucky invested $15 million in the project, which is expected to bring 550 jobs to the area.
In other words, even before sanctions were lifted, McConnell was already looking to make a deal with Deripaska to build a plant in Kentucky (thus bolstering McConnell politically). From Politico, August 2019:
Two former top staffers to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have lobbied Congress and the Treasury Department on the development of a new Kentucky aluminum mill backed by the Russian aluminum giant Rusal, according to a new lobbying disclosure.
The disclosure comes as Democrats are pushing the Trump administration to review Rusal’s $200 million investment in the Kentucky project — concerned that the mill will supply the Defense Department — and as McConnell weathers criticism for helping block a congressional effort to stop the investment.
The Russian firm was only able to make the investment after it won sanctions relief from penalties the Treasury Department initially imposed in April 2018 on Rusal and other companies owned by Oleg Deripaska, a Russian oligarch and Kremlin ally accused of facilitating Moscow’s nefarious activities, such as seizing land in Ukraine, supplying arms for the Syrian regime and meddling in other countries’ elections.
And I found this to be curious. David Vitter’s radical Right-wing wife Wendy was nominated for a federal judgeship in January 2018. The nomination had languished for more than a year, but in May 2019 her stalled nomination was finally pushed through by McConnell and company. David Vitter, as we saw above, was a major lobbyist pushing for lifting sanctions. A reward perhaps?
And remember: this is the same Mitch McConnell that had stymied President Obama’s efforts to publicly denounce Russian interference in the 2016 election.
This is the same Mitch McConnell that blocked election security measures designed to protect the 2020 election.
So let’s sum up:
Oleg Deripaska is a Russian oligarch who used rough, brutal tactics to climb to the top, and is a good friend of one of America’s worst enemies, Vladimir Putin. Deripaska helped interfere in the 2016 U.S. election through his friendship with Trump’s campaign manager, Paul Manafort, and is connected both to Russian intelligence and to Russian organized crime.
Mitch McConnell was getting financial contributions from Russian sources.
Mitch McConnell successfully fought to lift sanctions aimed at Deripaska.
Deripaska rewarded McConnell with promises of a substantial investment in Kentucky.
McConnell had made a deal with an outright enemy of the United States, a deal that would put money into the hands of McConnell’s friends and supporters.
Why is McConnell getting away with this?
By the way, if you really want to know what happens to people who cross Deripaska, read this.
ADDENDUM FROM KOSSACK KURIOUS:
“Oleg Deripaska and the Russian aluminium wars” (2012)
The wild wild East
(the period 1993-96) This was the start of what is now referred to as the Russian ‘aluminium wars’, a bloody period in the country’s post-communist asset grab from which a few dozen oligarchs emerged – and several potential oligarchs lost their lives…
...As the state began to sell off its resource assets, the size and value of the global market for aluminium, along with the potential for moving money around the globe, attracted such fierce competition that it is estimated 100 people were killed. In the words of Roman Abramovich, who testified recently in his suit over events of that period, “Every three days, someone was being murdered…”
Deripaska rose to the top of the pile with a controlling interest in Sibirsky Aluminium Investment Industrial Group, having somehow managed to survive the influence of the local Russian mafia and other threats to his life. With allegations of organised crime and multiple murders apparently dogging his every move, his wealth grew over the next ten years into one of the largest fortunes in Russia.
Meanwhile his friend, Roman Abramovich, acquired most of the rest of Russia’s aluminium industry…
...A 2010 story in the Financial Times explored Deripaska’s links with two heads of Russian organised crime gangs, but probably the most damaging to his reputation on the international business stage was the 2006 cancellation of his entry visa to the US, allegedly due to FBI concerns over his links to organised crime…
“Why is McConnell so upset about being called Moscow Mitch? Maybe it hits too close to home” (Journal 2019)
And the more rocks people turn over, the more it appears that Moscow Mitch may in fact be a Russian asset, like Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank called him recently.
Oh, not in the sense of a Russian asset in an old cold war thriller...
No. That’s not McConnell’s style.
What is his style, though, is allowing anyone to get away with anything as long as it advances his own personal goals…
So let’s talk about McConnell and Russia.
In the weeks leading up to the 2016 election, President Barack Obama called top congressional Republicans and Democrats together and informed them of national intelligence assessments that found the Russians were using an internet disinformation campaign to influence the presidential election…
Obama wanted to send out a bipartisan statement warning the Russians that such meddling wouldn’t be tolerated…
McConnell objected. Not only did he refuse to sign the letter, the Washington Post reported later that McConnell said “he would consider any effort by the White House to challenge the Russians publicly an act of partisan politics...”
...Then, we have Oleg Deripaska...who was banned from doing business in the United States because of alleged ties to the Russian mafia…
...The Trump administration, however, cut a deal to allow Rusal, a Russian aluminum company 70% owned by Deripaska, to do business in the United States...When a bipartisan group of congressmen objected and tried to stop the Trump administration from doing that, McConnell stepped in and blocked them...