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 RossWaPo calls Trump admin 'another threat' to endangered species Recession fears surge as stock markets plunge The Hill's Morning Report - Trump moves green cards, citizenship away from poor, low-skilled MORE to determine if he is following the department's ethics requirements. 

Democratic Sens. Richard Blumenthal (Conn.), Maggie HassanMargaret (Maggie) HassanTrump makes rare trip to Clinton state, hoping to win back New Hampshire Empower the VA with the tools to help our veterans Schumer to Trump: Demand McConnell hold vote on background check bill MORE (N.H.), Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerThe Hill's Campaign Report: Battle for Senate begins to take shape Steve King to Gillibrand: Odds of me resigning same as yours of winning presidential nomination We need a climate plan for agriculture MORE (N.J.), Maria CantwellMaria Elaine CantwellNative American advocates question 2020 Democrats' commitment Hillicon Valley: Trump reportedly weighing executive action on alleged tech bias | WH to convene summit on online extremism | Federal agencies banned from buying Huawei equipment | Lawmakers jump start privacy talks Lawmakers jump-start talks on privacy bill MORE (Wash.), Tammy BaldwinTammy Suzanne BaldwinTrade wars and the over-valued dollar Overnight Health Care: Senate panel advances drug pricing bill amid GOP blowback | House panel grills Juul executives | Trump gives boost to state drug import plans | Officials say new migrant kids' shelter to remain open but empty Senators vow to bring transparency to drug pricing MORE (Wis.) and Tammy DuckworthLadda (Tammy) Tammy DuckworthOvernight Defense: Dems talk Afghanistan, nukes at Detroit debate | Senate panel advances Hyten nomination | Iranian foreign minister hit with sanctions | Senate confirms UN ambassador Senate committee advances nomination of general accused of sexual assault Overnight Defense: General accused of sexual assault to get confirmation hearing | Senate to vote Monday on overriding Saudi arms deal veto | Next Joint Chiefs chair confirmed | Graham tries to ease Turkey tensions 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.