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By Dareh Gregorian, Mike Memoli and Marianna Sotomayor
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi accused Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin of “wasting the time” of lawmakers after a classified briefing Thursday in which he was supposed to shed light on the Trump administration’s decision to lift sanctions on companies linked to a Russian oligarch.
Pelosi called it “one of the worst classified briefings we’ve received from the Trump administration,” despite “stiff competition.”
“The secretary barely testified,” Pelosi told reporters afterwards. “He answered some questions, but he didn’t give testimony. They had an intelligence briefing, which I won’t go into, and then they read a document that was unclassified, wasting the time of members of Congress.”
“I went in sympathetic to the process that has been established for sanctions and for the relief of sanctions,” the California Democrat added. “I came out just unimpressed.”
The barb came one day after President Donald Trump complained on Twitter that a meeting with Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer at the White House about ending the government shutdown had been a “total waste of time.”
Mnuchin had been called to answer questions about his Dec. 19 announcement that the administration was easing sanctions on companies tied to Oleg Deripaska, an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin who also has ties to former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.
The Treasury Department’s notification triggered a statute that gives Congress just 30 days to try to reverse the decision by passing a joint resolution of disapproval. Schumer filed such a motion on Friday, but it’s unlikely to succeed in the Republican-run Senate.
Mnuchin said he was “surprised” by Pelosi’s comments.
“I was available,” he told reporters. “We gave them close to an hour and a half and answered all their questions.”
Deripaska, one of Russia’s wealthiest men, is a former business associate of Manafort’s. Manafort, meanwhile, has been convicted of several felony charges related to special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation and faces sentencing this spring.
Deripaska is not implicated in any of those charges. But he and three of his companies, including Rusal, the world’s second-largest aluminum company, were hit with US sanctions along with a number of Russian oligarchs, top Russian officials and several businesses in April for Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election.
The Treasury Department has said the decision to lift the sanctions on Deripaska’s companies was in exchange for Deripaska agreeing to significantly reduce his stake in them.