CONTACT: Jordan Libowitz
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Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross should be investigated for possibly violating federal conflict of interest laws by participating in multiple meetings with companies tied to his financial interests, according to a complaint filed today by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) with the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Department of Commerce’s Inspector General. The complaint also calls for an investigation into whether Secretary Ross falsely reported on his financial disclosure report that he had fully divested from one company and failed to disclose his interest in another.
Last month, Forbes reported that between March and May 2017, Secretary Ross participated in a series of meetings with CEOs of Boeing, Chevron Corporation, Greenbrier Companies, and the International Automotive Components (IAC) Group at a time when they were lobbying his agency and other parts of the government on trade issues and policy matters impacting the companies. At the time of these meetings, Secretary Ross or his wife held financial interests in each of these companies despite his previous pledge to divest from approximately eighty potentially problematic holdings. Specifically, Ross pledged to divest from Boeing and Chevron within 90 days of his confirmation and entities related to IAC Group within 180 days of confirmation. Ross did not include Greenbrier in his pledge to divest because those holdings were not reported during his confirmation process.
“Secretary Ross continues to demonstrate a troubling disregard for his ethics obligations, and his systematic failures and omissions suggest that he may have knowingly and willfully violated the law,” said CREW Executive Director Noah Bookbinder. “On several occasions, Secretary Ross has misled the American public about his financial interests, including failing to disclose holdings in companies directly lobbying the administration on issues he oversees. We should not have to question whether Secretary Ross is making critical policy decisions based on his own bottom line rather than what is best for our country.”
The criminal conflict of interest statute, 18 U.S.C. § 208, prohibits an executive branch employee from participating personally and substantially in any particular government matter that will have a direct and predictable effect on his financial interest or any financial interest imputed to him, including those of his spouse. The purpose of the statute is to prevent an employee from allowing personal interests to affect his or her official actions, and to protect governmental processes from actual or apparent conflicts of interest.
Secretary Ross has been the subject of numerous prior complaints of ethical misconduct, including allegations that he made false statements to OGE when he misrepresented he divested certain stock holdings before actually doing so, violated the STOCK Act and other insider trading laws by engaging in short sale transactions, and engaged in numerous ethical improprieties arising from his financial disclosures, divestment, and recusal obligations.