How a Blacklisted Russian Firm Won (and Lost) a Break From Trump’s Tariffs

“The Commerce decision on this exclusion request simply acknowledges that this product is not available from U.S. manufacturers,” a department spokesman said.

This week, the department reversed course on the exclusion, after The New York Times inquired about whether Century Aluminum had, in fact, filed an objection, given its pattern of objecting to nearly every other Rusal application. Department officials determined that Century had meant to file an objection to Rusal’s request, but had erred in submitting the paperwork. The department effectively fixed Century’s error, then ruled that the objection was valid — and that Rusal’s exclusion was void.

In light of Century’s “clear intent to file the required objection form, not completed due to its clerical error,” the department said in a statement, officials have now “considered the objection on its merits and determined it supports a denial.”

Rusal officials declined to comment on the issue this week. “Thank you for your interest in our company,” a spokesman, Andrey Vetvinskiy, wrote in an email. “Unfortunately, we will not be able to arrange an interview with our top management this month.”

The Commerce Department’s reversal has raised new questions from Democrats, including Representative Lloyd Doggett of Texas and Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, who say the department should have never considered granting an exclusion to a company under sanctions in the first place.

“The Trump administration granted this tariff exclusion, certifying no national security concerns, to a sanctioned subsidiary owned by a sanctioned Russian aluminum company, a mere three days after Trump’s surrender in Helsinki to President Putin,” Mr. Doggett, who sits on the Ways and Means subcommittee for trade, said on Thursday. “This is not about the failure of one of those American companies to object, but about continuing, very objectionable favoritism toward Putin.”

Ms. Warren sent the Commerce Department a 10-page letter earlier this week, laying out concerns with the Rusal approval, which her staff had found in a database of exclusions. “The Trump administration undermined our national security by handing out a tariff exemption for millions of dollars of aluminum imports to a sanctioned Russian company — only to reverse this decision after my investigation revealed this giveaway,” she said Thursday. “They owe the American people an explanation for how this fiasco happened.”