The Corner

White House

This Is Not What Draining the Swamp Looks Like

Forbes has what looks like a blockbuster report on Wilbur Ross. Ross had claimed to divest himself of any interests that would pose a conflict with his position as head of the Department of Commerce. It looks like that was not true. Forbes’s Dan Alexander writes:

  • For most of last year, Ross served as secretary of commerce while maintaining stakes in companies co-owned by the Chinese government, a shipping firm tied to Vladimir Putin’s inner circle, a Cypriot bank reportedly caught up in the Robert Mueller investigation and a huge player in an industry Ross is now investigating. It’s hard to imagine a more radioactive portfolio for a cabinet member.
  • To this day, Ross’ family apparently continues to have an interest in these toxic holdings. Rather than dump them all, the commerce secretary sold some of his interests to Goldman Sachs—and, according to Ross himself, put others in a trust for his family members. He continued to deal with China, Russia and others while evidently knowing that his family’s interests were tied to those countries.
  • In addition, five days before reports surfaced last fall that Ross was connected to cronies of Vladimir Putin through a shipping firm called Navigator Holdings, the secretary of commerce, who likely knew about the reporting, shorted stock in the Kremlin-linked company, positioning himself to make money on the investment when share prices dropped.
  • Absurdly, maintaining all those conflicts of interest appears to be entirely legal—a reflection of ethics laws woefully unprepared for governing tycoons like Donald Trump and Wilbur Ross.
  • Ross appears to have broken one law, however: submitting a sworn statement to federal officials in November saying he divested of everything he had promised he would—even though he still held more than $10 million worth of stock in financial firm Invesco, his former employer. He also continued to hold a short position in a bank called Sun Bancorp, a company he had promised to divest. The next month, Ross got rid of interests in both.

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