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OPINION

Treasury Deep-Staters Go After ExxonMobil on Trumped-up Charges

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.

ExxonMobil – a favorite whipping boy of the left – found itself back in the deep state’s crosshairs this week.

The Treasury Department’s Office of Financial Asset Control, a haven for burrowed bureaucrats, announced it has fined the energy giant $2 million for purportedly violating sanctions by dealing with a Russian businessman who had been placed economically off limits to Americans because of his involvement with Russia’s effective takeover of Ukraine.

In March 2014, President Obama issued an executive order that gave the Secretary of the Treasury the power to designate Russian officials viewed as contributing to the Ukraine problem and block them from acquiring property or interests or dealing in property or interests with anyone so designated.

On April 28, Igor Sechin was so designated, but Rosneft OAO, the Russian energy conglomerate of which he is president, was not.

So, on May 8, according to the Treasury Department, ExxonMobil signed eight legal documents related to oil and gas deals in Russia with Sechin in his capacity as president of Rosneft OAO.

ExxonMobil said in a challenge to the fines filed in U.S. District Court in Dallas that signing the deals does not constitute a violation of the sanctions because the sanctions applied to Sechin individually and not in his capacity as president of Rosneft OAO.

The Treasury Department admitted some of its guidance in the early days of the crisis indicated the purpose of the sanctions was to “isolate designated individuals” rather than “imposing blocking sanctions on the large companies that they managed.”

Indeed, as far as ExxonMobil is concerned, the record shows that Treasury sent more than a few signals there was a distinction between Sechin the private citizen and Sechin the president of Rosneft.

ExxonMobil cited a Mar. 17, 2014, White House fact sheet that said, “Our current focus is to identify … individuals and target their personal assets, but not companies that they may manage on behalf of the Russian state.” A spokesman said essentially the same thing the same day at a White House briefing.

It pointed to remarks on PBS NewsHour on April 28, 2014, by Tony Blinken, White House Deputy National Security Advisor, that Sechin was sanctioned in his “individual capacity” and that Rosneft was not designated, “minimizing any impact or consequences on American companies.” In other words, the personal v. professional distinction was drawn precisely so deals such as those ExxonMobil signed on to could go forward.

On the same day, Foreign Policy magazine quoted Treasury officials as saying “Sechin’s personal assets will be frozen, but Treasury officials said the designation wouldn’t impact U.S. companies’ ability to do business with Rosneft because Sechin does not control the firm.”

And on May 14, almost a week after the ExxonMobil deals were signed, Treasury officials told the Wall Street Journal the CEO of BP “may participate in board meetings with Mr. Sechin as long as they are conducting Rosneft’s, and not Mr. Sechin’s, personal business.”

It’s clear what is going on here. The Deep State within the Treasury Department is striking back at a company associated with President Trump, fining it for actions taken while Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was at the helm.

You can tell from the contempt that oozes from the finding. Treasury meted out the max punishment because ExxonMobil did not voluntarily self-disclose the violations it did not think it was committing. It is a sophisticated company and should have known better, Treasury said, and it routinely deals with economic sanctions and U.S. export controls.

It would have gone beyond the maximum fine, Treasury said, but ExxonMobil has not been cited with a violation in the last five years. Good behavior has its benefits.

This is not law and order. This is contempt for a company because of what it does and who is involved with it. It’s un-American, unfair and unnecessary. But none of that matters to the people whose only mission in life is to figure out ways to Get Trump.

And it won’t stop until the president gets serious about his campaign promises to drain the swamp. He can’t get going with that soon enough.

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