Banking Panel Democrats Focus on Russia at Treasury Nominations Hearing

The political fallout from President Donald Trump’s reported breach of top secret intelligence information in a meeting with Russian diplomats reached the Senate Banking Committee on Tuesday.

Panel Democrats made the news reports a central focus of a hearing on three nominees to top Treasury Department posts and a Commerce Department position responsible for overseeing financial crimes, foreign investment and sanctions.

Democratic lawmakers questioned the nominees on their views of revelations — sparked by a Washington Post story on Monday — about top secret information obtained through intelligence-sharing with U.S. allies, with Sens. John Tester (Mont.) and Sherrod Brown (Ohio), the committee’s ranking member, asking how officials should handle classified information.

Sigal Mandelker, Trump’s nominee to be undersecretary of Treasury for terrorism and financial intelligence, declined to respond directly to claims that the president shared highly secret information on Islamic State terrorist plots in his meeting at the White House last week with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

“We should be careful in how we share information with our allies and elsewhere,” Mandelker said.

Lawmakers kept their questions mostly broad and did not phrase their queries specifically about news reports regarding the Lavrov-Kislyak meeting.

The committee also heard testimony from Marshall Billingslea, a former member of Trump’s transition team who’s now the nominee to be assistant secretary of Treasury for terrorist financing; Heath Tarbert, a former GOP Banking Committee staffer who’s been nominated to evaluate the national security implications of foreign investment transactions as assistant secretary of Treasury for international markets and development; and Mira Ricardel, who would oversee export control policy as the undersecretary of Commerce for export administration.

In response to a question from Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), all four nominees said they would put loyalty to the Constitution and the law above personal fealty to the White House.

“I hope you’re not put in that position, but the first 120 days or so of this president suggests you might be,” Brown told the nominees. “And I know you take your responsibilities seriously, I know you will, and we’re counting on you to do the right thing.”

Senators from both parties raised asked about investigations into Russia writ large. Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) questioned the witnesses on Russian President Vladimir Putin’s financial interests in the United States.

Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) repeated his comments from last week that he can’t support Mandelker’s nomination, despite believing that she is qualified for the post, because of his frustration with what he called the Treasury Department’s lack of a substantive response to a request for information relating to the Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

“This investigation, I believe, is the most important thing that I’ll ever have taken on in my public life,” Warner said. “And we’re going to need to full cooperation of, not just Treasury, but all aspects of government if it is appropriate for us to look into those areas. And, clearly, the ‘follow-the-money’ route is one of the areas that is critically important.”

All of the nominees responded that they believe Congress deserves what Schatz called an “expeditious response” to requests for Treasury Department data on financial crimes enforcement.

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