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Is “Moscow Mitch”  better or worse than TOTUS? MA

By NATASHA BERTRAND and THEODORIC MEYER 10 hrs ago
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.
Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin announced in December that the department would lift the sanctions on Deripaska’s companies, which had roiled global aluminum markets, if the oligarch agreed to drastically reduce his stake in the businesses. The deal was reportedly potentially beneficial to Deripaska, however. Deripaska himself still remains under U.S. sanctions.
Attention over the sanctions relief deal has focused on McConnell, given his role in halting a bipartisan congressional effort in January to stop the penalties rollback. McConnell told reporters in May that his support for lifting the sanctions was “completely unrelated to anything that might happen in my home state.”
“A number of us supported the administration,” McConnell said. “That position ended up prevailing. I think the administration made a recommendation without political consideration. And that’s — that was how I voted — the reason I voted the way I did.”
Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, the top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, has been pushing the administration to review the Rusal investment.
In a statement, Wyden said: “Rusal’s proposed investment in a Kentucky rolling mill is deeply concerning. The deal was announced just three months after the Senate voted to lift sanctions on Rusal, and now we learn that Majority Leader McConnell’s former staff have been lobbying for the project. The American people need to have confidence that this deal is in the country’s best interest.”
It’s unclear whether the former staffers — Hunter Bates, a former McConnell chief of staff, and Brendan Dunn, who advised the Kentucky Republican on tax, trade and financial services matters before heading to K Street last year — directly lobbied McConnell’s office over the aluminum mill project. Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, the law and lobbying firm where Bates and Dunn work, and McConnell’s office declined to comment on whether they had done so.
In Washington, it’s common for congressional staffers to lobby their former colleagues.
Former Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), who’s now a lobbyist representing Rusal’s parent company, EN+ Group, gave McConnell “a heads up” on the Rusal deal prior to its announcement, according to a disclosure filing first spotted by The New York Times.
The lobbying push by McConnell’s former staffers, one of whom left his office in 2002 and the other who left a year ago, also comes as McConnell is being criticized for blocking election-security bills in the wake of Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election. McConnell took to the Senate floor earlier this week to rebut accusations that he’s kowtowing to Russia, prompting the hashtag #MoscowMitch to begin trending on Twitter.
The lobbying disclosure, made last week, shows Bates, Dunn and three other Akin Gump lobbyists are working for Braidy Industries in the new Ashland, Ky., aluminum mill. Rusal holds a 40 percent stake in the project.
Democratic lawmakers have called for an investigation of the project by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, an interagency body that can recommend the cancellation of foreign financial arrangements with U.S. firms over national security concerns.
A spokesman for Braidy told POLITICO in a statement that the company “has never negotiated or signed any contract to supply aluminum to the U.S. Government, including the DOD,” and noted that Braidy first “engaged” Akin Gump on May 20, months after the decision to lift the sanctions was made.
“We are thankful for the support provided by Rusal, the world’s second largest aluminum company and largest supplier of low-carbon aluminum,” the spokesman added. “Leading the rebuild of Appalachia is not easy. Unemployed coal miners, steel workers, and railroad workers in Appalachia need new advanced manufacturing jobs.”

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