An image purportedly showing a screenshot from a Russian state TV news program featuring eight Republican U.S. senators -- Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Mitt Romney (R-Utah), John Cornyn (R-TX), Richard Burr (R-NC), Ted Cruz (R-TX), Ron Johnson (R-WI), and John Thune (R-SD) -- made its way online in January 2019, along with the claim that the pictured American lawmakers were being "honored" or "thanked" for lifting sanctions against three companies controlled by Russian oligarch Oleg V. Deripaska:
- "Russian State Television celebrating lifting of sanctions and their ownership of the GOP."
- "Nothing to see here, just Russian state TV honoring American congress people for lifting sanctions."
- "Congratulations to Mitt Romney, Lindsey Graham, John Cornyn, John Thune and so many others ... They have been recognized by official Russian TV for their service to Russia."
This image is a genuine screenshot from the news program "60 минут" (60 Minutes) aired on Channel 1 Russia on 17 January 2019. The graphic featuring the 8 GOP lawmakers originally appeared on MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show (the MSNBC logo is visible in the bottom right hand corner of the graphic) the day prior during a segment concerning the lifting of sanctions that had been imposed on three companies controlled by oligarch Oleg V. Deripaska.
The graphic appears at the 9:30 mark of the following video, while a transcription from Maddow's report on these sanctions appears below the video:
Shortly before Christmas, the Trump administration quietly released plans to lift U.S. government sanctions on companies connected to Deripaska. Deripaska is sanctioned because of the U.S. -- because of the Russian government interfering in the U.S. presidential election in 2016. Now, the sanctions on Deripaska's companies are consequential. The companies linked to Deripaska happen to be huge companies.
So, even if you set aside the sanctions' effects on Deripaska personally, unsanctioning these huge Russian companies will also be really substantially economically beneficial to the Russian economy as a whole. Under American law governing sanctions like this, Congress has 30 days to review any decision by the administration to lift these kinds of sanctions.
Within that 30-day window, Democratic Senate leader Chuck Schumer brought forward legislation to in fact challenge that decision by the Trump administration, to block the lifting of the Deripaska-related sanctions.
As we reported last night, every Democrat in the Senate chamber voted with Schumer on this, as did 11 Republican senators, a heterogeneous bunch of Republican senators, who broke ranks with Mitch McConnell and sided with the Democrats to stop the Trump administration from lifting these Deripaska-related sanctions. That's a big number of Republican senators breaking ranks, especially after the Trump administration lobbied the Senate and the House really aggressively on this issue.
Well, today, this afternoon, despite those 11 Republican senators breaking ranks and being willing to side with the Democrats on this, it turned out to be not enough because today there was a crucial vote on this matter which came with not a 50-vote threshold, but a 60-vote threshold to stop the Trump administration from lifting these Deripaska-related sanctions.
Schumer and the Democrats and the breakaway Republicans were able to put together 57 votes, but 57 isn't 60, and so you can thank top Senate Republican Mitch McConnell. You can thank all of these other Republican senators who get all of this public credit for supposedly being so hawkish and so realistic on Russia. You can thank them all for voting today to give Vladimir Putin's government in Russia a huge big economic present and voting to give Oleg Deripaska the biggest break of his life, even while his potential role in the Russian attack on our election remains a critical matter that is under ongoing investigation related to multiple criminal cases.
Julia Davis, an investigative journalist and Russian media analyst, was one of the first to notice Maddow's graphic being featured on Russian State TV. Davis shared this screenshot on Twitter along with a brief message explaining its context.
Davis wrote: "#Russia's state TV reports that for the first time since 2014, the US is lifting sanctions from Russian companies [#Deripaska's Rusal et al.] The host laughs out loud about the Democrats not getting enough votes to block the effort, expresses hope that this is just the beginning."
We've included the relevant segment below from the "60 минут" broadcast, which starts around the 31-second mark (00:31) below:
A rough translation of the video via Google shows that the host says at one point: "Thank all these people who have always been known for their irreconcilable attitude towards Russia. Thank them all, for today they voted and made big economic gift to the government of Putin."