Democrats demand answers from Mnuchin on decision to lift Russia sanctions

By Kathryn Watson

/ CBS News

Trump lashes out over Russia reports

Top Democratic members of Congress wrote to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Tuesday demanding documents and records related to the department's decision to lift sanctions on three companies with ties to a Russian oligarch. The move comes after Congress tried and failed to block the sanctions from being lifted earlier this month.

In one letter, Reps. Maxine Waters, Adam Schiff and Eliot Engel wrote to Mnuchin asking for all records related to the Treasury Department's decision to ease sanctions on businesses related to Oleg Deripaska, a Russian billionaire with ties to President Vladimir Putin. The Democratic members — who wield subpoena power as the chairs of the House Financial Services, Intelligence and Foreign Affairs committees, respectively — gave Mnuchin a Feb. 5 deadline to hand over the records.

In a separate letter, Sen. Ron Wyden and Rep. Elijah Cummings asked Mnuchin for information about potential conflicts of interest stemming from Mnuchin's relationship with Len Blavatnik, a major shareholder in one of the companies benefiting from the lifting of sanctions. Cummings is chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, and Wyden is the ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee.

In April 2018, the Treasury Department sanctioned three companies connected to Deripaska as punishment for Russia's "brazen pattern of malign activities across the world." In December, Mnuchin announced those sanctions would be relaxed after the companies pledged to "significantly diminish" Deripaska's ownership stake. A measure to block the department's easing of sanctions failed in the Senate earlier in January.

Cummings and Wyden's letter to Mnuchin notes that he and Blavatnik, a U.S. citizen, were involved in a business venture in the past, and cited press reports that Mnuchin was a "frequent" guest on Blavatnik's yacht. The Democrats asked Mnuchin to provide records of his relationship with Blavatnik by Feb. 11.

Mnuchin is one of the wealthiest members of the president's Cabinet, with a net worth of roughly $300 million.

Rebecca Kaplan contributed reporting.

First published on January 30, 2019

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Kathryn Watson

Kathryn Watson is a politics reporter for CBS News Digital.

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