Former U.S. Sen. David Vitter’s a smart guy, and I’m sure he’s pretty good at his new lobbying career. One would guess so, considering that his assignment as part of a high-powered, highly paid team out to end sanctions on companies associated with a Russian aluminum oligarch was to deal with the Trump administration, and that administration officials proved enthusiastic about the cause.
But, wait, maybe there’s more to the picture.
Now comes word that U.S. Rep Jackie Speier, a Democratic member of the Intelligence Committee, is seeking information on a big business deal between Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and a billionaire who’s close to the controversial oligarch, Oleg Deripaska. Mnuchin has been the administration’s point person on the administration's quest to lift sanctions, which has drawn widespread Democratic and Republican criticism — although not quite enough to block it.
Speier is raising conflict-of-interest questions based on Mnuchin’s connection to Ukrainian-born Leonid Blavatnik. The two owned a Hollywood film company together until 2017, when Mnuchin divested in order to join the government. His shares were valued at between $5 million and $25 million, The New York Times wrote.
This is just one more note of international intrigue in a story that’s loaded with it. Deripaska is close to Vladimir Putin and is believed to have ties to Russian organized crime. He’s also had some big-money dealings with Paul Manafort, President Donald Trump’s now-convicted campaign chairman. After Congress failed to block the easing of sanctions, The New York Times reported that arrangements for Deripaska to distance himself from the firms in exchange for the lifting of sanctions may have been oversold.
And then, of course, there’s all the surrounding noise about Trump and Russia emanating from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.
Vitter is only one of many players in this sprawling drama. Still, for a politician who made his name two decades ago as a self-righteous ethics crusader, it’s pretty remarkable that he's involved at all.