Mitch McConnell is really, really pissed off at this whole "Moscow Mitch" nickname, connecting him to Russian oligarchs and Vladimir Putin. His ties to Oleg Deripaska and the fact the Putin stooge dropped a $200 million investment in aluminum mill in Kentucky are common knowledge around here, but apparently the rest of the country is only just finding this out now, and Mitch and his Russian friends are responding with a full-on PR blitz as Democrats call for McConnell to be investigated.
Braidy Industries, which is developing a new Kentucky aluminum mill partially backed by the Russian aluminum giant Rusal, has hired a firm with ties to Sen. Mitch McConnell (r-Ky.) to give the project a public relations boost as Democrats raise concerns about the initiative.
The firm, RunSwitch PR, was co-founded in 2012 by Scott Jennings — a former McConnell aide and CNN political commentator who ran a super PAC in support of the Senate Majority Leader called Kentuckians for Strong Leadership. Braidy hired RunSwitch in July “following recommendations from fellow business leaders naming them the best statewide media relations agency,” a Braidy spokesman said.
The public relations push comes amid Democratic calls for the Trump administration to review Rusal’s $200 million investment in the aluminum mill project, which was made possible by the Treasury Department’s decision in January to lift sanctions on Rusal and other companies owned by Oleg Deripaska — a Russian oligarch and Kremlin ally accused of facilitating Moscow’s nefarious activities.
“As a rapidly growing business headquartered in the Commonwealth of Kentucky, we engage a number of top-notch advisers and counselors without regard for their political affiliation,” the Braidy spokesman said.
A spokesperson for RunSwitch, where Jennings is a partner, said the firm is “frequently hired by companies with Kentucky projects and interests.”
“We are proud to work with Braidy Industries, a project with widespread bipartisan support that offers economic hope to a region that has taken a number of hits over the last several years,” the spokesperson added. “We believe the scurrilous attacks on Braidy are inaccurate and generated by people who want to see Eastern Kentucky fail if it means scoring political points, which is pretty pathetic.”
Jennings will not be working on the project himself.
The Braidy mill is projected to cost $1.7 billion. According to the company, it will produce aluminum for the food and auto industries and not for the Defense Department, a concern Democrats have raised in their push for a review of the Rusal investment for possible national security implications.
And of course Trump regime sanctions on Deripaska's Rusal corporation have been eliminated. Senate Democrats would like a word with Braidy and Rusal.
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) is stepping up calls for a national security review of a Russian aluminum company's plans for a mill in Kentucky, the home state of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R), calling the project "deeply concerning."
“Rusal’s proposed investment in a Kentucky rolling mill is deeply concerning," Wyden said in a statement Wednesday. "The deal was announced just three months after the Senate voted to lift sanctions on Rusal, and now we learn that Majority Leader McConnell’s former staff have been lobbying for the project. The American people need to have confidence that this deal is in the country’s best interest."
Wyden called for a probe by a federal agency which reviews the national security implications of foreign deals in June but is ramping up those calls after a report that two former McConnell staffers lobbied Congress and the Treasury Department on the project.
Hunter Bates and Brendan Dunn, both of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, lobbied on the development by the Russian aluminum company Rusal, Politico reported Wednesday. Akin Gump is retained by Braidy Industries, a Kentucky company, partnering with Rusal on the project. Rusal is owned by a Putin-connected Russian oligarch, Oleg Deripaska.
"The department needs to take potential harm to national security from Rusal’s proposed investment seriously,” Wyden told Politico in a statement responding to their story.
Deripaska faces U.S. sanctions, but Rusal won sanctions relief from the Treasury Department and it announced in May that its board approved a $200 million investment, The New York Times reported at the time.
The project in Kentucky has brought scrutiny from Democrats, who have been calling on the Trump administration to review Rusal’s investment into the project over concerns about Russian influence.
Mitch is definitely worried about how "Moscow Mitch" will play out over the course of his reelection campaign here in Kentucky, worried enough that he's risking an obvious payola charge to big name PR firms in order to dig himself out of this hole.
He doesn't have a choice, though. Storming out on to the Senate floor and railing against the Moscow Mitch moniker told every political journalist in America that there's a story here, and a big one. Even the local boys are daring to ask. Joe Gerth:
McConnell, who has in the past embraced nicknames given him by his opponents — from the “Grim Reaper” to “Darth Vader” to “Cocaine Mitch” — took to the floor of the Senate on Monday and decried those impugning his character.
Why did this upset him so, while he has embraced others?
Maybe it hit too close to home.
Perhaps, he knows our democracy is at risk and he’s not doing enough to protect it. Maybe he knows that his legacy won’t be the conservative judges he puts on the federal bench after all.
Maybe he knows the legacy of “Moscow Mitch” will be that he looked the other way when he thought Russian influence could help him and his party and that he harmed America in the process.
But if he thought the floor speech would make the nickname go away, it was a terrible error in strategy, because it revealed something that can get under the old sphinx's skin.
Memes abound on the internet with McConnell wearing Russian fur hats. The Democratic Party of Kentucky is selling Moscow Mitch shirts.
Throughout our history, our politicians who have stood up to the Russians are the ones who have become heroes. Kennedy. Reagan.
We don't honor those who capitulate.
And if you believe this isn't going to come up repeatedly at Fancy Farm this weekend, I've got some ocean-front property to sell you in Severo-Yeniseysky.
Fancy Farm, the annual candidate forum picnic that's Kentucky's biggest political event of the year, is today. Kentucky's usually moribund Democratic party is gleefully selling Moscow Mitch gear as a fundraiser and they are raking in thousands. Bet on this being the story this weekend.
And this ad is now running here in Kentucky.
Moscow Mitch is scared, folks. Maybe for the first time in his Senate career.