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McConnell and his new posture toward Moscow

Dana Milbank on

It was also unrelated, no doubt, to the fact that Len Blavatnik, a Ukrainian American whose firm owns 22.5 percent of Rusal, contributed $3.5 million to the McConnell-affiliated Senate Leadership Fund between 2015 and 2017, making McConnell his top recipient. Blavatnik -- whose partner in the Rusal investment, Putin-allied oligarch Viktor Vekselberg, has also been hit by U.S. sanctions -- gave millions more to other Republicans and to Trump's inauguration.

Now, Russia-backed Braidy is seeking up to $1 billion from U.S. taxpayers in low-cost debt financing, according to a Securities and Exchange Commission filing.

A McConnell spokesman said the notion that McConnell helped Russian oligarchs skirt sanctions and invest in the mill is "an entirely false narrative that has zero basis in actual fact." He acknowledged that the McConnell-affiliated PAC has received contributions from Blavatnik's Access Industries and Al Altep Holdings, but he said Democrats have also received contributions from Blavatnik.

Beyond Blavatnik's contributions and Rusal's investment, McConnell's venture-capitalist brother-in-law, Jim Breyer, who has made vast political contributions to McConnell, has invested extensively with Putin-tied Russian venture capitalist Yuri Milner.

McConnell was a Russia hawk for decades. But that hasn't been so clear lately, with the Deripaska sanctions, the Russia-tied political contributions, the tepid support for investigating Russia ("case closed," he pronounced, before the Intelligence Committee finished its investigation), and his allergy to aggressive action to protect U.S. elections.

I exaggerated last week in saying McConnell has blocked "all" election-security bills since Congress authorized $380 million for the purpose last year; senators unanimously passed, for example, relatively minor measures clarifying that hacking a voting system is a federal crime and denying entry to foreign nationals who have violated U.S. election law. But by the Trump administration's own assessment, not enough has been done, and McConnell has resisted action on more substantive efforts. As Rules Committee Chairman Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) said in explaining why election-security bills aren't moving: "The majority leader is of the view that this debate reaches no conclusion."

 

But that's no excuse for preventing the debate from happening. If Americans don't have confidence our elections are free and fair, nothing else in our democracy has value.

McConnell is free to take any position he likes on oligarchs and Russian money. But if he wishes to shed the "Moscow Mitch" moniker, he'll stop blocking the Senate from even considering ideas to protect democratic elections.

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Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter, @Milbank.

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group


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