BEREA, Ky. - Every day about 55 thousand people drive on the Interstate 75 though Berea and Madison County. For the most part, along with freeway, there is a lot of grass and some rolling hills.
New this week, is a red billboard, right on the side of the freeway, for those thousands of people to see. The billboard says "Russian Mob Money. Really Mitch?"
Last week, members in both the House and Senate sent a letter to the Treasury Department calling for a full investigation into the investment, and now pundits are questioning if it is linked to the confirmation of a judge.
In April, Braidy Instrustries announced they had a new investor for their Ashland plant; A Russian company called Rusal pledged $200 million in funding. Braidy Industries has said the plant will bring hundreds of jobs to rural eastern Kentucky. In exchange for its investment, a news release from Rusal said the it would earn a 40 percent share.
This raised eyebrows because of one of the people associated with Rusal. It's partial owner is Oleg Deripaska, a Russian oligarch. Deripaska was sanctioned a year ago for attempting to meddle in the 2016 election. Along with Deripaska himself, Rusal and its parent company, EN+ were also sanctioned.
Late last year, the Trump Administration announced it planned to end the sanctions on Rusal and EN+. All but two of Kentucky's congress people in the House of Representatives voted against that move. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell spoke in favor of lifting the sanctions. The sanctions were lifted in January.
Deripaska has a business partner, Len Blavatnik. From late 2015 through March of 2017, Blavatnik's businesses donated about $3.5 million to McConnell's Super PAC.
Following the news of that investment, Louisville Democrat, Congressman John Yarmuth had some questions. In an interview on April 16, Yarmuth said, "It's cause for further scrutiny. When you've got a guy who is complicit with Mr. Manafort, who is now a convicted felon, you've got some questionable dealings. I'd like to see- I don't know what Mitch McConnell's involvement is, but clearly with a $3.5 million donation to his political activities. There's just a lot of suspicious connections there and the last thing we want is investing public money, as we've done in Kentucky, and potential federal money, in a situation with some very questionable actors."
Earlier in May, McConnell was asked about the ties. He said, "The administration took the position and I talked to the Secretary of the Treasury about it, that the conditions that they thought needed to be met were met. It was completely unrelated to anything that might happen in my home state. A number of us supported the administration and that position ended up prevailing. I think the administration made a recommendation without political considerations and that was the reason I voted the way I did."
Despite that reassurance, last week various members of Congress in both the House and Senate, sent a letter to the Treasury Department, asking for a review of the investment in Braidy Industries by Rusal.
New reporting from Kenneth Vogel of the New York Times discovered a new detail. Vogel published documents showing that former senator, David Vitter (R-Louisiana) gave McConnell a "heads up" about the Rusal investment. Vitter is now working as a lobbyist and represents EN+.
Vitter's office confirmed to NBC News that he did give McConnell's office the heads up, however they added that it had absolutely nothing to do with his wife's new judge appointment.
In 2018, Vitter's wife, Wendy, was nominated for a federal judgeship, which is a lifetime appointment, in their homestate of Louisiana. During Vitter's confirmation hearing in April of 2018, she angered Democrats when she refused to say if she thought Brown vs. Board of Education, the ruling that ended school segregation, was decided correctly.
Following that hearing, her confirmation sat for a year, until mid-May of 2019, when she was confirmed with a 52-45 vote in the Senate. Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) was the only Republican senator to vote against Vitter.
In an email, Senator McConnell's office said Vitter's confirmation went through the proper procedure and channel. They also added, "The timeline shows that any connection between events is impossible. And the liberal fantasy of quid pro quo is as silly as it is dumb."