Speaker Nancy Pelosi slammed Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Thursday, calling a closed-door briefing on Russia sanctions “a waste of time” and “one of the worst classified briefings” she’d received during the Trump administration.
Pelosi said that Mnuchin mostly read from an unclassified document and let other officials do most of the talking.
“The secretary barely testified at all,” she said.
House Democrats called the hearing under a 30-day review window following Treasury’s notification in December that sanctions would be lifted on companies tied to Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin who also has ties to Trump’s convicted former campaign manager Paul Manafort.
Treasury announced last month it would drop sanctions on Rusal, the world’s second-largest aluminum producer, as well as EN+ Group, the company that holds Deripaska’s stake in Rusal.
Asked whether she would consider a resolution of disapproval to block the removal of sanctions, Pelosi said, “We’ll see.”
Mnuchin said he was “somewhat shocked” by Pelosi’s comments. Mnuchin said he appeared voluntarily two days after the request was made and he answered roughly half the questions that were asked.
“We sat through and gave them close to an hour and half and answered all their questions,” he said.
Mnuchin said that he had received a Democratic request to extend the 30-day review period on lifting of the Russia sanctions, and that he would “seriously take into consideration” the request.
“There’s no linkage whatsoever” to Russia and the lifting of sanctions was not politically motivated, Mnuchin added.
Mnuchin said in a statement before the briefing that the Rusal and EN+ Group will face “real and swift consequences” if they fail to comply with commitments made in order to have sanctions lifted.
“Treasury will be vigilant in ensuring that En+ and Rusal meet these commitments,” Mnuchin said in a statement. “If these companies fail to comply with the terms, they will face very real and swift consequences, including the reimposition of sanctions.”
Mnuchin said he was committed to providing Pelosi and several committee chairs a full briefing to answer their questions and concerns.
The briefing marked a first step toward tougher oversight of the Trump administration on Russia-related matters. It comes as Democrats mull whether to formally push back against the sanctions relief for the Russian companies, announced last month.
In the statement, Mnuchin said En+, Rusal and ESE had been designated for sanctions because they were majority-owned or controlled by Deripaska.
These firms he said have undergone “significant restructuring and governance changes” that have cut Deripaska’s ties and “significantly diminish his ownership.”
“They have committed to provide Treasury with an unprecedented level of transparency into their dealings to ensure that Deripaska does not reassert control,” said Mnuchin.
On Monday, seven House Democratic committee chairmen sent a letter to Mnuchin raising concerns about terminating the sanctions and demanding a briefing.
“As the chairs of committees with oversight jurisdiction over the US response to Russia’s attempts to interfere in our elections and other hostile actions, we have a number of concerns about the agreement that the US has reached with Mr. Deripaska,” the lawmakers wrote.
CORRECTION: This story has been updated to accurately describe the holdings of EN+ Group.