U.S. Sen. John Kennedy doesn’t often break with the Trump administration, so it’s noteworthy when he does. One of those occasions came Wednesday, when Kennedy joined with Democrats and 10 fellow Republicans in opposing an administration move to lift sanctions, first imposed in response to Russian meddling in the 2016 American election, on what The New York Times described as “corporate empire of an influential ally of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.”
That ally is Oleg Deripaska, an aluminum oligarch who has been “investigated for money laundering and accused of threatening the lives of business rivals, illegally wiretapping a government official and taking part in extortion and racketeering,” according to an earlier column published in the Times. Deripaska also figures into the complicated case involving convicted Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort. Court documents showed that Deripaska once loaned $10 million to Manafort, and Manafort reportedly offered to brief him during the campaign.
In the end, 57 senators voted against softening the sanctions, short of the 60 required to stop the move but enough to make a statement about the administration’s coziness with Putin’s circle.
And in joining the opposition, Kennedy didn’t just buck the president. He also came out against his predecessor in office and longtime key backer, former U.S. Sen. David Vitter. Vitter left Congress in 2017 and is now a lobbyist. One of his big clients is the Deripaska-linked business empire, which was restructured to give Deripaska less personal influence, at least on paper.
Vitter didn’t grant CNN an interview on the subject, but Kennedy did.
"I have grave concerns about Mr. Deripaska," the current senator said. "I understand he says he's given up his majority of the stock ... but you don't have to own the majority of the stock to have influence over the people of the company."
Once upon a time a chest-thumping ethics crusader like Vitter might have said the same thing. In hindsight, seems reasonable to ask whether he would have meant it.