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 RossHouse chairman threatens to find Justice official in contempt of Congress DOJ rejects Oversight subpoena unless agency lawyer is permitted to attend Third judge blocks citizenship question from 2020 census MORE to determine if he is following the department's ethics requirements. 

Democratic Sens. Richard Blumenthal (Conn.), Maggie HassanMargaret (Maggie) HassanOvernight Health Care: CEO of largest private health insurer slams 'Medicare for All' plans | Dem bill targets youth tobacco use | CVS fined over fake painkiller prescriptions | Trump, first lady to discuss opioid crisis at summit GOP senators divided on Trump trade pushback Former Democratic aide pleads guilty to doxing GOP senators attending Kavanaugh hearing MORE (N.H.), Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerButtigieg says he wouldn't be opposed to having Phish play at his inauguration Sanders announces first endorsements in South Carolina Buttigieg to fundraise in DC with major Obama, Clinton bundlers next month: report MORE (N.J.), Maria CantwellMaria Elaine CantwellMore than 30 Senate Dems ask Trump to reconsider Central American aid cuts 737 crisis tests Boeing's clout in Washington State rules complicate push for federal data privacy law MORE (Wash.), Tammy BaldwinTammy Suzanne BaldwinOnly four Dem senators have endorsed 2020 candidates Democratic proposals to overhaul health care: A 2020 primer More than 30 Senate Dems ask Trump to reconsider Central American aid cuts MORE (Wis.) and Tammy DuckworthLadda (Tammy) Tammy DuckworthWarren, Gillibrand ask Defense whether border deployments hurt troop readiness Overnight Energy: Bipartisan Senate group seeks more funding for carbon capture technology | Dems want documents on Interior pick's lobbying work | Officials push to produce more electric vehicle batteries in US Bipartisan senators want 'highest possible' funding for carbon capture technology 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.