As we had posted last week, U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) held a Venezuela sanctions bill -- at the very last minute -- at the behest of Venezuela's Citgo.
An article in today's POLITICO reveals the details
It's a great article, though it fails to stress an important point: Citgo is owned by the Venezuelan government. It's a tool of Nicolas Maduro.
In other words, Senator Landrieu held up the sanctions bill at the behest of the Venezuelan government.
Furthermore, as the story explains, the sanctions bill does not affect the oil industry -- it simply sanctions Venezuelan government officials involved human rights violations.
Thus, all Senator Landrieu has done is protect Venezuelan government officials involved in human rights violations.
Emails: Mary Landrieu, Citgo fend off Venezuela sanctions
Oil company Citgo teamed up with Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairwoman Mary Landrieu to block a package of Venezuelan sanctions that senators were considering last week, emails obtained by POLITICO reveal.
Citgo — the wholly owned U.S. subsidiary of Venezuela’s national oil company — raised concerns that the package targeted at human rights abusers would hurt the company’s ability to import crude oil to its Gulf Coast refinery in Port Charles, La., eliminating jobs, according to the documents.
Landrieu’s office confirmed her involvement in heading off the sanctions package. The Louisiana Democrat faces a tough reelection fight and is under pressure to show she can wield her energy chairmanship to help her state.
According the emails, Citgo’s concerns set off a last-minute scramble on Capitol Hill to determine what Landrieu’s objections to the bill were and whether they could be resolved before Congress left town. Her concerns ultimately resulted in Landrieu placing a hold on the bill late last week, right before the Senate adjourned for August recess.
“We were working back and forth with Citgo,” acknowledged a spokesman for Landrieu when shown the email thread. The senator “asked for there to be to a second layer of protection” for the company’s interests in the sanctions package, and the committee said no, said Matthew Lehner, Landrieu’s communications director.
Citgo did not immediately respond to multiple requests for comment Thursday, including an emailed question on whether it was acting on behalf of the Venezuelan government or its own corporate interests.
The Senate had been trying to get a bipartisan sanctions package approved by unanimous consent before the members left. The Senate calendar was crowded with lots of last-minute bills, along with friction over issues like immigration and the border — and staffers assumed the Venezuela bill would coast to an easy passage.
The package — introduced earlier this year by Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) — would have imposed sanctions on Venezuelan officials involved in a violent crackdown against peaceful pro-democracy protesters. The legislation also includes a travel ban and an asset freeze.
Foreign Relations Committee staffers were moving forward with plans to hold a full Senate vote when aides got wind of Landrieu’s intent to place a hold on the bill. A Senate Foreign Relations staffer reached out to a top Landrieu aide to find out the details of the objection.
“I was asked to get a message to Senator Landrieu on this and need to ask her whether she wants to hold the bill,” wrote Landrieu staffer and Energy Committee staff director Elizabeth Craddock in an email to Democratic colleagues last Thursday night.
Craddock asked her Democratic colleagues on the Foreign Relations Committee to circle back with committee staff on the next morning, and then wrote back: “We have a refinery in Louisiana that takes Venezuelan crude. The fear is that this bill will prohibit future shipments of that crude, thereby essentially shutting in the refinery and as a result, there will be a large loss of jobs at the refinery. If this is indeed the case, or can potentially happen, my boss is unwilling to support this bill.”
Foreign Relations staffers tried to assure Landrieu’s office that the bill would have no bearing on Citgo’s operations in the United States.
“No need for Senator Landrieu to be concerned about any implications for refineries in Louisiana,” wrote one staffer. “The scope of [the bill] is very narrow. It focuses on individuals that have committed human rights abuses against protesters in the past 6 months, has unlawfully jailed protesters, or supported either of those first two provisions.”
Craddock shared the response with the company, and then shared the company’s response and what appear to be its talking points with the Foreign Relations Committee.
In particular, Citgo worried that “the interpretation of the legislation by the executive branch/ and Congress could change over time,” according to the talking points. Citgo raised worries that it could be considered a “person” under U.S. law and that its association with state-owned oil company Petróleos de Venezuela might implicate it in human rights abuses in the country.
Citgo has no Washington, D.C., office or in-house lobbyists. It hired two powerhouse D.C. lobbying shops in May — the same month that the House passed its own version of the sanctions bill.
Citgo hired the firms Squire Patton Boggs and Cornerstone Government Affairs — paying the two firms a whopping $450,000 in combined lobbying fees in the second quarter of 2014. It also has long had the firm Grayling representing it in Washington, and paid it $100,000 in the same quarter.
Squire Patton Boggs, in particular, has had a long relationship with Landrieu. Former Louisiana Sen. John Breaux — who co-chairs the firm’s lobbying practice — served in the Senate with her. The Squire Patton Boggs PAC and the firm’s employees have together given more than $75,000 in donations to the Louisiana Democrat over the years, making the firm her seventh largest benefactor, according to numbers compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.
A spokesman for Landrieu said neither Breaux nor any other Squire Patton lobbyists distributed the talking points or intervened in the case, but did not respond to questions about which firms or Citgo executives it was working with on the sanctions issue.
The Venezuelan government has not had lobbying representation in the United States. Lobbying and advocacy by foreign governments is much more tightly controlled than lobbying by corporations. Corporate lobbying is disclosed to the Senate and House, and enforcement of registration requirements and disclosures is generally light.
Citgo has at times been the subject of controversy and boycott threats in the U.S. because of its relationship with Venezuela, especially during the years of friction between the United States and former Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez.
at 10:06 AM Friday, August 8, 2014
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