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 was heavily invested in Chinese steel through a wholly owned subsidiary that Ross ran until he entered government.
While leading this steel tariff investigation, Ross also held stock in a steel consuming railcar manufacturer named Greenbrier. The day after Greenbrier CEO Mark Furman expressed concern about the investigation’s effect on his company in a letter to the Commerce Department, Ross sold up to a half million dollars’ worth of Greenbrier stock.
Ross also participated in several trade agreements and in the Trump administration’s effort to promote American exports of natural gas products. While participating in these matters, Ross held multiple interests in Navigator, a transoceanic shipping firm; public filings show that he likely still holds some of them. As an exporter of natural gas byproducts, Navigator was well-positioned to benefit directly from these efforts.
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. At this time it is unknown whether or not he made a profit, was shooting for a long-term gain off short-term losses, or wanted to mitigate potential harm to his interests, however, 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.
CLC’s complaint also flags statements by Ross implicating the false statements statute. For example, in a November 1st filing, Ross told the government he had divested his Invesco stock. The truth is that Ross didn’t divest until December 20.
The Inspector General needs to investigate Ross to show government leaders and the American people that conflicts of interest won’t be tolerated.