U.S. Treasury Defends Russian Billionaires' List Against Critics

(Bloomberg) -- The U.S. Treasury Department offered further explanation of the way it developed a list of business and political figures that it said were close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, seeking to defend itself against criticism that the process was hasty or superficial.

The department late Monday identified 210 billionaires and top officials -- so-called oligarchs -- in a sweeping list required under bipartisan legislation passed last summer.

Democrats in Congress complained that the report was not accompanied by fresh American sanctions to punish Russia for its alleged interference in the 2016 election, with one calling the report a “copy-and-paste” job after the Treasury said it was based on a Forbes magazine list of wealthy Russians.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Tuesday faced tough questioning from several senators during a scheduled hearing, including Louisiana Republican John Kennedy.

There has been “widespread misreporting” of Treasury’s response, Tony Sayegh, the department’s assistant secretary for public affairs, said in a statement on Wednesday. He reiterated Mnuchin’s statements earlier this week that “there will be sanctions that come out of this.”

The unclassified part of the report, released publicly on Monday, was from public materials, including websites, government documents, records and news stories, according to Sayegh, while the unclassified section of the report that was submitted to Congress was from classified sources and methods.

“Treasury has made it clear that we are focused on countering Russia’s destabilizing activities,” Sayegh said.

“Treasury included a classified annex in the report in order to avoid potential asset flight from the named individuals and entities, as well as to prevent disclosure of sensitive information,” he added.

Repeated Typo

“Mnuchin’s lack of seriousness and subsequent refusal to take immediate action is both reckless and a dereliction of duty,” Senator Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, said in a statement Tuesday. “I believe significant information from the classified annex could be declassified, and call on the annex to be subject to an immediate declassification process.”

One name on the Forbes list was misspelled, and the Treasury Department’s own list on the unclassified part of the report made the same error.

During Mnuchin’s Senate hearing, Kennedy, a Republican, called Putin a “thug” for meddling in elections around the world. Mnuchin responded that he would not use such terminology, but said there were “clearly” issues to address.

Representative Maxine Waters, a California Democrat, sent a letter to on Mnuchin Wednesday admonishing him for what she called a lack of action: “I find it hard to accept that over the course of the past six months the president has been unable to determine that a single person has engaged in a significant transaction with the Russian defense or intelligence sectors.”

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.