Asked About Conflict-Prone Meeting, Wilbur Ross’ Spokesperson Issued Misleading Statement

Shortly after becoming Secretary of Commerce, Wilbur Ross convened a White House meeting with two people he knew well. The first was Bill Furman, CEO of a railcar manufacturing firm named Greenbrier Companies. The second was Wendy Teramoto, a former Greenbrier director, who was simultaneously working for both the commerce department and Ross’ private equity firm. At the time of the meeting, both Ross and Teramoto held stock in Furman’s company. 

Federal law prohibits officials from taking certain actions that affect their personal holdings. But when asked about the meeting last July, a spokesperson for the commerce department suggested Ross and Teramoto had nothing to worry about. “There was a purely social lunch with Mr. Furman at which Secretary Ross paid the bill,” the spokesperson said in a statement. “No items specific to Greenbrier have been before the secretary during his tenure at commerce.”

Twelve days after the White House meeting, Furman sent a letter to the commerce department, offering a public comment on Secretary Ross’ decision to launch an investigation into steel imports. In the letter, first uncovered by the oversight group Campaign Legal Center, the Greenbrier CEO expressed support for a foreign axle supplier that had partnered with his company. “We depend on having access to a stable supply of railcar axles and wheels made of steel,” he wrote, “including those received from Sumitomo Corporation of Americas (‘Sumitomo’) imported from Japan.”

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