We are now in the longest shutdown in American history, and as we’ve said before, it’s not just a shutdown but a hostile restructuring. Sarah and Andrea discuss a rapidly worsening situation affecting federal workers, food stamp recipients, public safety and environmental conservation. We argue yet again that Mueller will not save you – in part because it’s too late, and in part because the shutdown is being used to slow down the probe and demolish the FBI and other investigatory and prosecutor agencies. We once again make the case for impeachment, and argue that hearings about Trump administration corruption should start immediately, because the American people deserve to see evidence debated openly in a public forum without media spin. This is a dire time and Americans need as much information as possible.
We also discuss the controversial Buzzfeed article on Michael Cohen that prompted an unprecedented response by the special counsel. We debate the reasons for this move, and note that the broad condemnation of Buzzfeed – especially the vicious skewering of Buzzfeed reporters by other journalists – may have more to do with Buzzfeed’s willingness to publish controversial material like the Steele Dossier or articles on the infiltration of the US treasury, and not necessarily with this particular piece on Cohen. We encourage reporters to stop acting like petty assholes at a time of autocratic consolidation, and instead work together to bring truth to light.
The episode concludes with Andrea giving a detailed analysis of the US Treasury’s refusal to fully implement sanctions on Russia and, in particular, how criminal oligarch Oleg Deripaska has remained above the law in so many countries for so many decades. Far from being an abstract foreign policy issue, the lack of repercussions for billionaires like Deripaska has a direct, deleterious effect on American life – as well as on Russian life. These are not only financial crimes, but crimes against human rights. We are being ruled by a coalition of corruption, a burden we as ordinary citizens all share but none deserve.
SHOW NOTES ON DERIPASKA'S SANCTIONS DEAL:
We examine Oleg Deripaska’s great deal with Trump’s Treasury - a case study of kleptocracy. You may remember Deripaska as the Russian oligarch close to Putin who had Paul Manafort on a $10 million annual contract starting back in 2006 to advance the interests of the Kremlin in the U.S. Their relationship hit a rough patch when Manafort owed Deripaska $10 million. Shortly after joining the Trump campaign, and agreeing to work for free, Manafort emailed his right-hand man - a former GRU officer with suspected ties to Russian intelligence, Konstantin Kilimnik - asking whether Deripaska had seen the media coverage and asked how to become “whole” with him. Deripaska has also been exposed by an escort and self-described sex trainer who claimed to have tapes of Russia-Trump collusion, a long strange story that’s still developing.
Deripaska’s notoriety began when his mafia tactics won the violent “aluminum wars” of the 1990s, when former Soviet state assets were up for grabs. In the U.S. he has been blacklisted for being considered a thug connected to organized crime. Over the years, Deripaska has spent millions of dollars on politicians in the UK and US as well as on PR and lobbying firms as part of a long desperate battle to buy legitimacy in the West.
Deripaska’s efforts have finally paid off. While he himself remains sanctioned for the Kremlin’s aggression, his financial war-chest won a months-long negotiation with the U.S. Treasury to release sanctions against his aluminum empire Rusal, which took a major hit on the markets when sanctions were first announced last April. We examine that deal, which Democrats led a futile effort to stop in Congress, and how it benefited Deripaska by moving ownership of Rusal to his allies while at the same time allowing him to write-off massive debt likely on favorable terms. What’s more, a notorious French Kremlin propagandist lobbying for the recognition of Putin’s annexation of Crimea was made the new chairman of Rusal. And U.S. aluminum may suffer now that Rusal is allowed to continue with business as usual.
Supporters of Steve Mnuchin’s deal with Deripaska have a long list of reasons why it’s perfectly acceptable. They point to the deal following procedure (points there!), avoiding hurting Rusal jobs in Europe, and avoiding a possible legal challenge that could set a dangerous precedent for sanctions moving forward (that’s a big if!) A possible court challenge could be met with the precedent of the US targeting not just oligarchs in Russia but an entire industry, such as the strategic sanctions to limit Russia’s oil industry, which the Russian economy depends on.
While Mnuchin has tried to manage the optics by sanctioning other, lesser known people close to the Kremlin, targeting a high-profile oligarch like Deripaska, along with his companies, sends a louder message. The fact remains that Russia’s recent escalating aggression against Ukraine, including openly attacking Ukraine in international waters and taking two-dozen sailors hostage as well as Ukraine’s president pointing to Russia amassing ground troops and tanks on Ukraine’s border, has not led to further sanctions. With Crimea running out of water, Russia may ramp up its invasion to gain access to water sources further inside Ukraine, especially given that the Western alliance doesn’t seem to care. And Russia seems to be right at home attacking our election, having allegedly tried to hack the DNC again.
For those critical of sanctions as bad for the U.S. economy - relying on a Maria Butina talking point - one of the greatest threats to the American economy seems to be the President of the United States. The Trump shutdown could slow economic growth; Trump’s dismal foreign relations have cost U.S. exports $3 billion; U.S. tourism is down, costing $4.6 billion and 40,000 jobs likely due to Trump’s rhetoric and policies, and Trump’s trade war with China is costing the U.S. billions. In all, it looks like Derispaska’s aluminum empire may have escaped sanctions while Trump has essentially sanctioned America.