Commerce Secretary Ross Financial Troubles
U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has admitted to a “lapse” in ethical practices after being scolded by an ethics review letter for not revealing his complete financial assets. This lapse in judgement came to light after it was discovered that Mr. Ross had not fully divested himself of certain stocks, and was warned of the potential for “a serious criminal violation,” by the U.S. Office of Government Ethics (OGE).
Upon being accepted for his high level position within the Trump administrations cabinet in early 2017, Ross had pledged to divest himself of multiple holdings and shares including shares in Invesco Ltd, the parent company of W.L. Ross & Co, valued at up to $50 million.
“I have made inadvertent errors in completing the divestitures required by my ethics agreement.” Ross stated Thursday, “To maintain the public trust, I have directed that all of my equity holdings be sold and the proceeds placed in U.S. Treasury securities,” he said.
While the investigation held by the OGE found no indication of violations due to a conflict of interest, the letter reprimanding Mr. Ross stated, “your failure to divest created the potential for a serious criminal violation on your part and undermined public confidence.”
The OGE noted “various omissions and inaccurate statements” in disclosure and compliance documents submitted, and that, “You also opened new short positions on various holdings that you committed to divesting in your Ethics Agreement, in contravention of that agreement.”
The failure to fully complete his promised divestiture of stocks is the latest in a list of growing concerns in Mr. Ross’ actions while secretary of commerce and prior to taking this position. During his time in office it was discovered that in 2009, he had held interest in a Chinese sovereign wealth fund called China Investment Corp. and a company called Navigator holdings, which has semi convoluted ties to Vladimir Putin through investments the company had made. In 2014 Mr. Ross also invested in Cypriot institution, which had purchased Russia’s ninth-largest bank for nearly $600 million in 2008. These previous connections by Mr. Ross, a one time worldwide investor, and his constant meetings with businesses he has had dealings with or members of his family have connections to have begun to concern many.
A look at his official calendar revealed meetings throughout his tenure in office with business entities and lobbyists with whom he had either worked with in the past or had familial financial ties to. If these meetings were kept broad enough and addressed no specific details that could affect his investments, then no ethics violations took place.
The legal loophole that allows government officials to work on “general policies” even if those policies may affect their holdings has suddenly become a concern for many who oppose the Trump administration in recent years. While this loophole did not seem to be an issue during previous administrations it and other policies and procedures within the government that allowed for potential corruption have joined the list of worries for the adamant anti Trump movement.
Regardless of the seemingly endless list of growing concerns from those opposed to the Trump administration, many of which should have been raised and addressed during other administrations, President Trump’s administration and cabinet picks have an alarming tendency to skirt the line between a job well done and the corruption the president promised to remove by “draining the swamp.”