Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell worked to block a measure last month that would have shifted funds from the U.S. Treasury Department to help cover coal miners’ pensions and health care — but just a few months prior, the Kentucky Republican successfully steered funds from the same place toward a Russian-backed aluminum company in his home state.
According to The Daily Beast, the money was drawn from a Treasury Department fund for Appalachian development, set up in light of the coal industry’s downfall and subsequent economic woes the region now faces.
But McConnell blocked a bipartisan bill introduced by Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) in 2018 that aimed to help miners using that money.
“There are amendments that benefit Americans and West Virginians that are being blocked by one person: Mitch McConnell,” Manchin said in a statement at the time. “He is the sole person that is blocking a vote on my amendment to… secure coal miners’ health care and pensions, even though it has bipartisan support and would better the lives of every West Virginian, Kentuckian and American.”
Instead, the Republican worked to better aluminum company Braidy Industries, which boasts as an investor Russian aluminum giant Rusal — formerly headed by President Vladimir Putin ally Oleg Deripaska.
McConnell voted in January 2018 to lift sanctions on the Russian company, a move decried by Democrats and even some Republicans on Capitol Hill. In April of the same year, Rusal announced it would invest $200 million in Kentucky’s Braidy Industries, making the Russian company Braidy’s only outside investor.
What was not known or reported previously is the extent to which McConnell was connected to the Rusal-Braidy plant.
The Daily Beast reported that the senate majority leader “was advocating for federal funds to be diverted to help with construction of the Braidy plant in Kentucky” at precisely the same time that Rusal was lobbying the Trump administration to be removed from the U.S. sanctions list.
In October 2018, McConnell, Rep. Harold Rogers (R-KY), and Kentucky officials announced that two companies, EastPark Industrial and Ashland Alliance, would receive $4 million from the Appalachian fund “for general sewer and road repair on 204 acres of land.”
But in March 2019, those companies announced the money would not go toward general repairs. Instead, the funds would be used to prepare for construction on the Braidy aluminum plant.
“Ashland Alliance and EastPark will only be applying the $4 million to the Braidy Site preparation,” wrote Ashland Alliance president Tim Gibbs in an email from March 2019 reviewed by The Daily Beast. “The $4 million in AML funds will enable Braidy to complete the $14 million total investment to stabilize the site for high precision manufacturing.”
Two sources with direct knowledge of the matter told The Daily Beast that “McConnell went to bat for the applicants during the internal review process and was instrumental in helping them secure the federal funding.”
It was just as preparations for the aluminum plan construction began that McConnell blocked Manchin’s bill to help out American miners.