Federal Politics

Published — December 19, 2018

Wilbur Ross said he divested a stock holding — but he didn’t

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross speaks to reporters outside the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2018. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Failure to dump BankUnited shares is the latest inaccurate statement by Trump’s Commerce secretary.

Introduction

Dec. 20, 2:30 p.m.: This story was updated.

U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross twice submitted sworn statements to ethics officials saying he had divested stock that he in fact still owned, a new document obtained by the Center for Public Integrity reveals.

The disclosure, in a new filing by Ross, represents the latest in a series of inaccurate statements and omissions in Ross’ personal financial statements since President Donald Trump tapped him as Commerce secretary in late 2016.

Ross was supposed to sell his BankUnited, Inc. stock, valued at up to $15,000, within 90 days of his Senate confirmation, according to his federal ethics agreement — in other words, by the end of May 2017.

Ross twice submitted disclosure reports to federal ethics officials saying he had divested the stock — once in a transaction report from May 2017 and another time in his annual financial disclosure from August 2018.

But in October, Ross filed another transaction report with ethics officials acknowledging he had had not divested the BankUnited stock when he said he did — and continued to own it until October 1, 2018. The Office of Government Ethics has not yet certified this latest transaction report, but released the document in response to a request from the Center for Public Integrity.

Ross acknowledged he had previously reported selling the stock, and said he had done so “based on a mistaken belief that the agent executed my sell order on that date.”

In both previous reports, Ross certified that “the statements I have made in this form are true, complete and correct to the best of my knowledge.”

In a brief statement emailed in response to questions from the Center for Public Integrity, Ross said the October transaction reported “corrected an earlier filing,” and reiterated that he had believed the shares were sold on May 31, 2017, when he originally reported divesting them.

The BankUnited stock comprises a tiny fraction of the wealthy Ross’ assets, but it is the latest example of Ross failing to divest something he said he had sold. He had previously failed to sell his Invesco Ltd. stock, valued at between $10 million and $50 million, until December 2017, even though in November 2017, he had told federal ethics officials he had complied with his ethics agreement and divested everything he had been required to divest.

In July, the Center for Public Integrity reported the stock’s value increased by between about $1.2 million to $6 million over its value at the end of May, depending on Ross’ actual number of shares.

Ross had also previously reported late divestitures of stock in Sun Bancorp Inc., the Greenbrier Companies Inc. and Air Lease Corp. In all cases, he said he had been unaware that he had still owned the stock, and moved to divest it when he found out. He has also faced other questions about his handling of potential conflicts of interest.

In July, the acting head of the Office of Government Ethics, David Apol, sent Ross an unusually blistering letter about his disclosure problems. Apol wrote that Ross’ failure to divest assets by the deadline in his federal ethics agreement “created the potential for a serious criminal violation on your part and undermined public confidence.”

Apol urged Ross to devote the resources necessary to ensure that the report he was required to file in August and all future reports “are complete and accurate.”

In response to that letter, Ross issued a statement saying he took his ethics obligations seriously, and his errors had been inadvertent.

The Senate confirmed a new director of the Office of Government Ethics, Emory Rounds, in July. OGE did not respond to a request for comment about whether it would take additional steps regarding Ross’ compliance with his ethics agreement, or why it had not yet certified and released Ross’ most recent transaction report.

Ethics watchdogs said Ross no longer deserves the benefit of the doubt.

“This is the latest in a series of omissions and claimed mistakes that have begun to add up to something that looks very suspicious,” said Austin Evers, executive director of American Oversight, a nonprofit watchdog group. “Wilbur Ross clearly is not taking his ethics obligations seriously. He’s been warned and at this point he needs a full audit by OGE and probably Congress to make sure he’s not operating with blatant conflict of interest.”

Delaney Marsco, ethics counsel for the Campaign Legal Center, a nonprofit watchdog group that has called for the Commerce Department’s inspector general to investigate whether Ross violated conflict-of-interest laws and statutes governing false statements and omissions, said Ross’ mistakes defy logic.

“There are rules in place,” she said, adding that if he had followed OGE’s instructions to carefully vet his August financial disclosure, he would have realized sooner than October that the stock had not been sold. “It shows a lack of reverence towards the ethics program and a disregard for the rules,” she said.

Members of Congress have also repeatedly called for investigations into Ross’ handling of his personal financial holdings.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., the ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, has asked the Department of Justice to investigate. Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., has asked the Commerce Department inspector general to examine whether Ross violated conflict of interest laws.

In a statement issued to the Center for Public Integrity Thursday, Wyden said the new documents “show that Secretary Ross yet again made false statements about selling off stocks that presented a conflict of interest for him. This administration’s contempt for the most basic checks on corruption is bottomless.”

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SOUTH JERSEYTed SiroisMark SullivanTom LarkinAnonymous Recent comment authors
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Mark Sullivan
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Mark Sullivan

Trump needs to conduct these activities because the entire MSM media, excluding Fox, is campaigning against him 24/7/365.

Didn’t Monica’s boyfriend’s wife and various criminal enterprises outspend Trump by almost 2-1?

CapitalistRoader
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CapitalistRoader

Why wouldn’t he get an early start on fund raising? Hillary outspent him two-to-one in 2016. The Dem’s are the party of big money. The President knows this and is attempting to get a jump on it. Of course the Dem candidate will outspend him in 2020 so it’s only rational that he starts fund raising now.

George Young
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George Young

Oh brother. We just 8 years of the Campaigner – in – Chief. Where was this journalistic rectal thermometer then. Just another article about 2000 words too long that merely takes another slap at Trump for something he far from initiated.

j stevenson
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j stevenson

The big difference between Trump and all the rest is his refusing to accept funds from lobbyists, so they don’t have the White House access they are used to. These are the donors who buy the presidency and are as pixxed off that he won the election as are the media and the Dems. Lobbyists have never been shut out of the WH and Trump has told them he is not for sale.

jan v
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jan v

all the lobbyists are running all our government agencies and all the career civil servants who know how to run the country have been fired. YOU think this is a good thing ? what a crock…

thomas alessi
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thomas alessi

I am for Trump

Martin Shellabarger
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J. Stevenson, what are you drinking? Trump has more lobbyists in his administration than probably any other president. Trump is totally “for sale”, and the corporations know it. Grow a brain!

Anonymous
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Anonymous

Trump needs to be impeached and tossed in prison. Then have the key thrown away so he will never be free. Then he can see how it feels not to have freedom.

Mark Sullivan
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Mark Sullivan

Thank you for the usual insightful leftist low IQ Snowflake response.

barney
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hes not imprisoning them hes sending them back to their country chill tf out

SOUTH JERSEY
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SOUTH JERSEY

WHY DONT YOU HAVE FREEDOM?

Tom Larkin
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Tom Larkin

First, something positive. I was happy to learn of empirical information in article. BUT, the article was so slanted against President Trump as to be deemed fake news (“Perhaps Trump just lied.” (Two different issues)). The article mentions that President Trump raised over $67 million, but ended 2018 with $19 million. President Trump spent over $40 million 2016 and 2017. President Trump conducted 57 political rallies. The article notes the hats and T-shirts sold, but NEVER MENTIONS THE INCREASE IN THE NUMBER OF REPUBLICAN SENATORS during a mid-term election that lost the House and the number of political rallies in… Read more »

Ted Sirois
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Ted Sirois

At least Trump is getting donations from willing donors. Fresh from his first election, Obama used billions of our children’s tax dollars to save thousands of union jobs in the car industry and bailed out the banks and many Wall Street businesses. This secured his source of reelection funds for his reelection four years later.

South Jersey
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South Jersey

TRUMP 2020; IS AN AMAZINGLY SMART MAN! VERY ORIGINAL & CREATIVE. I AM HAPPY TO HAVE HIS AS POTUS.

SOUTH JERSEY
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SOUTH JERSEY

THIS ARTICLE WAS OBVIOUSLY WRITTEN BY, A TRUMP-HATE-GROUP. THAT FEELS; IT IS NOT NORMAL TO BE SUCCESSFUL WITH YOUR OWN BRAND NAME. WHEN, IF FACT, IT IS NORMAL! >>>>> THIS IS >>> FAKE NEWS!!! <<<< ie: A PACK-OF-LIES; SPUN INTO; DEFAMATION OF CHARACTER. FOR A SINISTER-AGENDA OF; FASCIST DEMOCRATIC SOCIALIST, COUP D'ETAT

David
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David

Are you on some kind of drugs? Writing in caps makes me think that you are grumpy old fart or a uneducated hillbilly.