'Not In Compliance': Wilbur Ross, The Trump Official Who Keeps Watchdogs Up At Night


Support for NPR and the following message come from Amazon prime video with Llerena the new docu series that shares Lorena Bobbitt side of the story and investigates the headlines and press coverage twenty five years later lorraina now streaming on Amazon prime video two years ago today, President Trump's friend Wilbur Ross was sworn in as secretary of commerce. He's a skilled and wealthy investor. But at the Commerce Department, he has pushed the limits of federal ethics laws. NPR's Peter Overby and carry Levin of the center for public integrity examined his conflicts with ethics officials and Peter has their story in January twenty seventeen Wilbur Ross sat facing the Senate Commerce Committee, the senators had to decide if he was qualified to become secretary of commerce. If confirmed is to Ross would bring decades of business, entrepreneurial and civic experience to this important position. Chairman John thune a Republican opened the hearing Mr Ross is perhaps best known for his expertise and revitalizing distress business. Such as those in the United States steel industry Wilbur Ross and Donald Trump became friends in the ninety s Rossett engineer to break for Trump who is in distress over a casino, bankruptcy. The committee members had questions of all of the billions of dollars in holdings that you own now you have divest it more than ninety percent. You have resigned from fifty positions Senator Richard Blumenthal. A democrat was referring to the agreement. Ross had signed with the office of government ethics Rosh promise to sell or resign from scores of entities. Most within three or six months. The process has been enormously complex and challenging and costly to you personally. Correct though, sir. Ross vowed to recuse himself from any remaining conflicts intend to be quite scrupulous about recusals any topic with the slightest sin Tila of down, but Ross portfolios like nesting dolls companies. Within companies within companies as for that signed ethics agreement Ross has failed to divest assets. When he said, he would despite telling ethics officials he had done so two years after the hearing here's Blumenthal take on I feel that essentially he misled the committee and Senator Ron Wyden went further. He's the top democrat on the finance committee the breadth and the brazen of his ethical lapses are just staggering foon Blumenthal and widen have each asked for investigations of Russia's compliance with the ethics laws. Other Trump appointees have had flashier ethics problems using a helicopter to go horseback riding or seeking a chick fillet franchise for spouse. But it's Ross who keeps ethics watchdogs up at night Delaney Moscow's ethics council at the campaign legal center, which filed a complaint against Ross last summer. He has escaped sort of the more popular scrutiny. Because there's kind of sophisticated violations, and they're a little bit wonky in terms of what actual issue is earlier this month, the government's chief ethics officer did something. So rare observers couldn't recall the last time it happened Emory round director of the office of government ethics refuse to certify Ross's annual financial disclosure. He said it wasn't accurate round acted seven months after his predecessor at the agency publicly criticized Ross for failing to abide by his signed ethics agreement. He said Ross was risking potential criminal violations. Ross blamed an inadvertent error, he noted the asset cited by rounds who's worth only thirty seven hundred dollars, but the dollar amount isn't the problem. Don, FOX is a former general counsel and acting director at the ethics agency. First of all, it says that neither secretary Ross nor the White House take ethics in government. Seriously. It's best window-dress. For them Ross's ethics situation echoes Trump's own. They both have complex opaque financial assets impossible to understand based on what's publicly known both have come under attack for failing to divest and both have been accused of acting in their own interest instead of the public's there have been rumors that Trump might replace Ross. But when we asked the White House if there were any ethical concerns their response lauded, his work advocating for the president's agenda. No mention of ethics Ross's problems started soon after he arrived at commerce. He says he started finding assets that should have been divested. He defended himself on CNBC, everything that's been done has been done in compliance with the office of government affects. So these are people second guessing, the president put Ross in charge of an investigation of steel imports over at I have been working on this a long time, but Ross was slow and selling his stake in an investment firm called Invesco in Invesco was. Getting into the Chinese steel industry to Commerce Department later said there were no conflicts of interest, but Ross's remaining Invesco steak went up in value by at least a million dollars before he sold it and other issues emerged a family trust about which little has been disclosed accompany Ross intended to keep called diamond s shipping democratic Senator Maria Cantwell. Challenged him on it at the confirmation hearing is that correct? You're not devestating from them. The correct the research we've done suggests that there has never been a shipping case come before the department of comers. The Commerce Department does oversea trade and tariffs which directly affect how shipping firms make their money. Can't well and five other senators have asked the Commerce Department's inspector general to investigate Ross Ross told NPR and the center for public integrity that he rectified errors. Once he discovered them. He said he remained committed to the American people and would continue to seek the guide. Of ethics officials, professor. Kathleen Clark specializes in government ethics law at Washington University in St Louis this record by Ross and by others of multiple misstatements on ethics forms. I think demonstrates what kind of commitment. Ethics. This administration has which is essentially contempt. Virginia candor is a former ethics official known ethics council for the non-profit citizens for responsibility and ethics in Washington. She said that when congress wrote the ethics in government law twenty five years ago, they didn't envision a Wilbur Ross or his types of assets or his types of conflicts of interests or his disclosure, deficiencies, Kanter and other ethics experts. Say changes are needed especially more transparency and stronger enforcement strong enough to bring high net worth appointees like Wilbur Ross into compliance with the ethics laws. Peter Overby NPR news, Washington. And that story was reported with the center for public integrity support for this podcast and the following message. Come from Comcast business having the nation's largest gig speed network was just the start. Now, they're providing gig fueled apps and solutions that exceed expectations and help businesses perform Comcast business beyond fast.

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