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WASHINGTON, Aug. 13, 2018 – Today, Campaign Legal Center (CLC) filed a complaint with the Department of Commerce’s Inspector General calling for an investigation to determine whether Commerce Secretary Wilbur L. Ross Jr., violated the criminal laws on conflicts of interest and false statements.
In 2017, Ross led an investigation to determine whether the United States should impose a tariff on steel imports while holding Invesco stock worth millions. At the time, Invesco had a significant interest in Chinese steel through a subsidiary that Ross ran until he joined the government.
While leading the steel investigation, Ross also held stock in a steel-consuming railcar manufacturer named Greenbrier. One day after Greenbrier CEO Mark Furman sent a letter to the Commerce Department expressing concern about the investigation’s effect on his company, Ross sold up to a half million dollars’ worth of Greenbrier stock. Ross, who sold Greenbrier stock three times in 2017, claims he learned that these sales occurred after he had unexpectedly discovered he still held shares of the company’s stock. However, Ross does not appear to have recused from the steel investigation after each discovery pending divestiture of the shares.
In addition, Ross participated in several matters affecting his financial interests in Navigator, a transoceanic shipping firm: (1) several trade agreements with American companies involved in natural gas products, including liquefied natural gas (LNG), liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), and ethylene; (2) the administration’s efforts to promote American exports of LNG, which are economically linked to LPG and ethylene; and (3) the steel tariff investigation. Navigator was affected by the first two matters because it transports LPG and ethylene, which are derived from byproducts of the production of LNG. Navigator was affected by the steel investigation both because it was developing a major ethylene export facility and because it was competing with pipeline companies.
“Secretary Ross’s vague and inconsistent filings raise questions about whether the financial interests of a wealthy cabinet secretary influenced administration policies affecting American companies,” said Delaney Marsco, ethics counsel at CLC. “Maybe he made a profit, maybe he was shooting for a long-term gain off short-term losses, or maybe he wanted to mitigate potential harm to his interests. The motive is irrelevant. What matters for purposes of the conflict of interest law is only that Ross participated in particular matters in which he had financial interests. He knew better because the government gave him ethics training, and he’s a savvy investor who previously served as Navigator’s chairman and as the leader of an Invesco subsidiary tied to Chinese steel. This is exactly why we have ethics laws. The Inspector General needs to investigate Ross to show government leaders and the American people that conflicts of interest won’t be tolerated.”
CLC’s complaint provides a detailed analysis of public records regarding Ross’ activities. Although these documents have been available to the public, this complaint provides the first in-depth analysis of the information they contain. The goal of CLC’s project was to connect the dots and provide the Inspector General with a roadmap for determining whether Ross has violated the criminal conflict of interest law. “Each of the elements of the criminal conflict of interest law has been met,” said CLC’s Delaney Marsco, adding that “Unless the Inspector General finds new information exonerating Ross, he at least appears to have violated the law several times.”
CLC’s complaint also flags statements and omissions by Ross implicating the false statements statute. For example, in a November 1st compliance certification, Ross told the government he had divested his financial interests in Air Lease Corporation, Invesco, and Sun Bancorp. The truth is that Ross still had interests in those companies at the time. In addition, Ross testified before a congressional committee that the addition of a controversial citizenship question to the census had originated with a request from the Justice Department when, in fact, it originated with him.
In the complaint, CLC noted other concerns that the Inspector General should investigate. CLC explained that Ross has not accounted for 46 assets that he pledged to divest. In addition, CLC noted that Ross has interests in other shipping companies potentially affected by his activities in the government.
Read CLC’s complaint here.