Bipartisan Senate bill on Venezuela calls for Trump to block Russian oil deal

Opposition supporters clash with police during protests against unpopular leftist President Nicolas Maduro in San Cristobal, Venezuela, April 19, 2017. 

Carlos Eduardo Ramirez/REUTERS

A bipartisan group of U.S. Senators introduced a wide-ranging bill Wednesday aimed at the crisis in Venezuela, calling for sanctions and demanding President Donald Trump step in to prevent a deal struck by Venezuela's state oil company that might lead to Russian ownership of U.S. oil.

The bill calls for the State Department to coordinate an international response to the crisis in Venezuela; requires the U.S. intelligence community to prepare an unclassified report on the involvement of Venezuelan government officials in corruption and the drug trade; and would provide $10 million in humanitarian aid for the country. Food shortage and triple-digit inflation in Venezuela have led to weeks of violent protests against President Nicolás Maduro.

In addition, a section of the bill highlights a Nov. 30 loan given by Russia's state-owned oil company, Rosneft, to Venezuela's state-owned oil company PDVSA. The deal would allow the Russian company to take control of nearly half of the U.S. oil company Citgo, which PDVSA owns, if Venezuela defaults on its debts. CBS News first reported on the deal in March.

Influential senators from both parties sponsored the bill, including Senators Ben Cardin, D-Md.; Marco Rubio, R-Fla.; John Cornyn, R-TX; Dick Durbi, D-Ill.; John McCain, R-Ariz.; Bill Nelson, D-Fla.; Tim Kaine. D-Va.; Chris Van Hollen, D-Md. and Bob Menendez, D-NJ.

"The United States Congress is forced once again to take forceful legislative action in light of the appalling dismantling of democracy, explosion of human rights abuses and boiling economic crisis in Venezuela," Menendez, the ranking member of Senate Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, said in a statement to CBS News. "The suffering of the people of Venezuela is real and harrowing, and it now appears evident Nicolas Maduro will continue abusing them without any accountability and will continue to drive his country's economy further into the ground unless the international community steps up in a major way."

The bill comes five days after U.S. Treasury Steven Mnuchin missed a deadline to respond to a letter sent by six senators, including some who are sponsors of the bill, calling for the Treasury to investigate the Rosneft deal.

The deal "could have significant national security implications for critical energy infrastructure in the United States," the senators wrote in the letter.

The letter notes that the deal would potentially give Rosneft a 49.9 percent minority stake in Citgo, but other transactions could tip the Russian company into owning a majority of the company. The senators also expressed concerns that Russia could use its control of Citgo to counter sanctions imposed by the Obama administration after Russia annexed the Ukrainian territory of Crimea in March 2014.  

The bill effectively bypasses the Treasury Department, calling on the President to take all necessary steps to prevent Rosneft from gaining control of U.S. energy infrastructure.

Menendez said in his statement to CBS News that the Venezuelan crisis may have a far-reaching impact beyond the country's borders

"As the Venezuelan regime spirals out of control, this bipartisan legislation represents our resolve for the United States to speak unequivocally in our rejection of the abhorrent state of affairs in Venezuela and its potential destabilizing impact in our hemisphere," Menendez said.  


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  • Graham Kates

    Graham Kates is an investigative reporter covering criminal justice, privacy issues and information security for CBSNews.com.