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McConnell and his new posture toward Moscow

Dana Milbank on

"Moscow Mitch" was red hot.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, on the Senate floor Monday, denounced critics (including me) who say his recent blocking of efforts to fortify defenses against another Russian attack on U.S. elections are aiding and abetting Vladimir Putin.

"For decades, I have used my Senate seat to stand up to Russia," the Kentucky Republican protested.

Unfortunately for McConnell, two days later came a reminder that he has taken a rather different posture toward Russia of late. Indeed, it appears, he has been key to helping Russian oligarchs with ties to Putin skirt U.S. sanctions and invest in an aluminum mill in McConnell's home state of Kentucky.

Citing Senate lobbying disclosures, Politico reported Wednesday that two former McConnell staffers had signed on as lobbyists for the Braidy Industries mill, which is 40 percent owned by Russian aluminum giant Rusal. That company has long been controlled by Oleg Deripaska, an oligarch who, the United States alleges, has said "he does not separate himself from the Russian state." Braidy also hired a PR firm founded by yet another former McConnell aide, the outlet reported Friday.

It is well established in Washington that, as Politico's Anna Palmer noted in 2014, "there's little difference between the McConnell confidants who used to be on his payroll and those who still are." The article specifically cited former McConnell chief of staff Hunter Bates, who is now one of the Braidy lobbyists.

 

A McConnell spokesman said that the lobbyists, hired by Braidy on May 20, requested two meetings but that those were declined, and no meetings have been held "to date."

McConnell himself had championed the oligarchs' cause before. After the Trump administration last year exempted Deripaska-related enterprises from sanctions, a bipartisan rebellion attempted to reinstate the sanctions (House Republicans joined Democrats in a 362-to-53 vote), but McConnell led a successful effort in the Senate to thwart the rebellion, which he called a "political stunt."

Three months later, the Russian aluminum giant announced its $200 million investment in Kentucky. McConnell declared in May that his vote to exempt Deripaska enterprises from sanctions was "completely unrelated."

Of course.

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