Senate Democrats want watchdog to launch probe into Wilbur Ross
© Greg Nash

A group of Senate Democrats want the Commerce Department's top watchdog to launch an investigation into Secretary Wilbur RossWilbur Louis RossChina state media accuses US of seeking to 'colonize global business' China accuses US of 'rumors' and 'lies' about Huawei government ties Weather forecasters predict up to 15 major storms this hurricane season MORE to determine if he is following the department's ethics requirements. 

Democratic Sens. Richard Blumenthal (Conn.), Maggie HassanMargaret (Maggie) HassanBipartisan senators reveal sweeping health care package 'American Taliban' released from prison 'American Taliban' set to be released after years behind bars MORE (N.H.), Cory BookerCory Anthony Booker2020 Democrats jockey over surging college costs Whip list: Who's clinched a spot in the 2020 Democratic debates 2020 Democrats target federal ban on abortion funding MORE (N.J.), Maria CantwellMaria Elaine CantwellData privacy: Consumers want it, businesses need it — it's time our government delivers it Don't revive logging in national forests Top Finance Dem offers bill to help those repaying student loans save for retirement MORE (Wash.), Tammy BaldwinTammy Suzanne BaldwinWarren vows to fight 'tooth and nail' for LGBTQ protections as president This week: House to vote on bill to ban LGBTQ discrimination Overnight Defense — Presented by Huntington Ingalls Industries — Pentagon approves transfer of .5B to border wall | Dems blast move | House Dem pushes Pelosi to sue over Trump's Yemen veto MORE (Wis.) and Tammy DuckworthLadda (Tammy) Tammy Duckworth25 new sexual harassment claims filed against McDonald's Duckworth tweets photo of female senators showing up first for committee quorum: 'Women getting it done!' Overnight Energy: States fight Trump rollback of Obama lightbulb rules | Greens seek hearing over proposed rule on energy efficiency tests | Top Dem asks GAO to investigate climate threat MORE (Ill.) sent a letter to Peggy Gustafson, the inspector general of the Commerce Department, asking that she open an investigation into Ross's compliance. 
 
"We write to request that you commence an investigation of Secretary Wilbur Ross and his chief of staff, Ms. Wendy Teramoto, to ensure that their conduct and representations are consistent with all ethical requirements of the U.S. Department of Commerce," the senators wrote. 
 
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The senators' request includes asking the inspector general to determine the "true value" of Ross's personal wealth, if he has complied with his ethics agreement including divesting his assets, if the agreement is adequate and if senior Commerce Department officials have been allowed to serve despite conflicts of interest. 
 
Documents leaked earlier this year, known as the "Paradise Papers," showed several individuals connected to President Trump as having legally protected their business investments or influenced policies that would keep client and company funds in tax havens.
 
Ross maintained shared business interests with Russian President Vladimir Putin's inner circle after joining the administration, according to documents obtained by The New York Times. 
 
Democrats also argued that there have been contradictory reports about the extent of Ross's wealth. Forbes reported earlier this month that Ross overstated his wealth by $2 billion. 
 
The senators, referencing the Forbes article, want the department's watchdog to study the "veracity" of Ross's statements about his wealth and if he "provided fabrications about other assets or shielded the existence of assets, and the extent to which false representations impacted the evaluation of and implementation of the ethics agreements he must now follow." 
 
They also want the department to verify that Ross is complying with his ethics agreement or if he has "participated in matters personally and substantially that could affect the assets he was allowed to retain."  
 
Ross told the BBC earlier this month that it is "evil" to say he failed to disclose holdings in a shipping firm with ties to Putin's family, adding that there is "nothing whatsoever improper" about the business links.
 
The Commerce Department told Forbes, in response to its report, that any misunderstandings were "unfortunate" but refused to provide additional information. 
 
"Secretary Ross has filed all required disclosures in accordance with the law and in consultation with both legal counsel and ethics officials at the Department of Commerce and Office of Government Ethics. As we have said before, any misunderstanding from your previous conversation with Secretary Ross is unfortunate," the agency said in a statement to Forbes at the time.
 
The Democrats also cite unnamed reports that Teramoto, Ross's chief of staff, continued serving on the board of a shipping company even after she started at the Commerce Department. 
 
“These reports about a clear and compelling conflict of interest make us question whether her efforts are focused on her personal business interests or the well-being of the American people,” the senators added.