Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, under pressure to explain the administration’s controversial move to ease Russia sanctions, is in talks with House Financial Services Chairwoman Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) about appearing before her committee.
Waters called on Mnuchin to testify amid complaints by Democrats that Treasury failed to deliver documents they requested regarding the department’s decision to lift penalties targeting billionaire Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, a close ally of President Vladimir Putin.
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Waters and Mnuchin spoke by phone Wednesday and are working to find a “mutually agreeable date” for him to appear before the committee, a Treasury spokesperson said. In the interim, Treasury is in the process of responding to the document request, according to the spokesperson.
Mnuchin had been asked to testify next week but declined.
Waters, who famously shut down Mnuchin in a 2017 committee hearing when she insisted on “reclaiming my time,” told POLITICO that she wanted to hear directly from the secretary about its decision to move forward with a plan to relax sanctions last month on three companies tied to Deripaska.
“What we’re going to do is we’re going to get Mr. Mnuchin into the committee and ask him real pointed questions about de-listing,” she said.
Waters is unlikely to back down.
Now armed with subpoena power, she and other House committee chairs have promised to pursue intense oversight of President Donald Trump and his appointees. Trump denounced the effort in his State of the Union address Tuesday evening, claiming “ridiculous partisan investigations” could hurt economic growth.
Efforts to resist congressional testimony are becoming somewhat of a pattern among some Cabinet officials in the new era of House Democratic oversight.
Mnuchin is already resisting appearing before the Ways and Means Committee, according to Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.), while Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar is refusing to testify before the House Energy and Commerce Committee about the Trump administration’s controversial family-separation policy.
Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.), the top Republican on the Financial Services Committee, confirmed that Mnuchin declined to testify next week but said Treasury offered to appear later, once the administration releases a budget. A spokesperson for Waters declined to comment.
At issue for Democrats — and many Republicans — is that the administration was too easy on Deripaska when Treasury cut a deal to relax sanctions on Russian companies Rusal, EN+ and EuroSibEnergo.
The firms had been targeted because of their ties to Deripaska, and as part of U.S. efforts to punish Russian entities for interfering in the 2016 election. Treasury tried to make the case that the companies had done enough to blunt his influence, including shaking up the corporate boards and attempting to reduce his holdings.
Last week, Waters and the chairmen of the House Intelligence and Foreign Affairs Committees asked Mnuchin to produce all documents related to the decision.
Democrats had already set their expectations low. They had no confidence that Treasury would meet their document request on time, given the scope of the demands in addition to the contentious relationship between the department and congressional Democrats over the implementation of congressionally mandated Russia sanctions.
Waters said the Treasury Department did not meet the Tuesday deadline the committee chairs set.
“They stiff-armed us,” Rep. Jim Himes (D-Conn.) said.
A bipartisan coalition of lawmakers attempted to reverse Treasury’s controversial decision to de-list the companies tied to Deripaska, but they ultimately failed to clear the 60-vote threshold in the Senate. The House’s effort to block the de-listing passed overwhelmingly, 362 to 53.