House Dems request ethics investigation into Commerce secretary

House Dems request ethics investigation into Commerce secretary
© Anna Moneymaker

The top Democrats on eight House committees sent a letter to the Commerce Department's inspector general on Wednesday requesting an investigation into conflicts of interest and potential false statements made by Secretary Wilbur RossWilbur Louis RossThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump seizes House impeachment vote to rally GOP DOJ, Commerce slam House Dems contempt vote as 'political stunt' White House blasts 'shameful and cynical' Barr, Ross contempt vote MORE.

The lawmakers who signed the letter include Reps. Maxine WatersMaxine Moore WatersHere are the 95 Democrats who voted to support impeachment Maxine Waters says her committee will call in Zuckerberg to testify about Libra Hillicon Valley: Lawmakers struggle to understand Facebook's Libra project | EU hits Amazon with antitrust probe | New cybersecurity concerns over census | Robocall, election security bills head to House floor | Privacy questions over FaceApp MORE (Calif.) and Elijah CummingsElijah Eugene CummingsNew CDC overdose estimates are nothing to celebrate Overnight Health Care — Presented by PCMA — Sanders mounts staunch defense of 'Medicare for All' | Biden, Sanders fight over health care heats up | House votes to repeal ObamaCare 'Cadillac Tax' | Dems want details on fetal tissue research ban DOJ, Commerce slam House Dems contempt vote as 'political stunt' MORE (Md.), the ranking members on the Financial Services and Oversight and Government Reform committees, respectively.

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The letter references news reports that Ross shorted stock in Navigator Holdings after learning that journalists were planning a story about his ties to the Russian-linked company. It also cites media reports saying Ross did not properly divest his assets upon taking office.

“Rather than fully divesting these assets as he committed to do in his confirmation hearings, Secretary Ross appears to have placed certain assets into a trust that benefits his family members,” the lawmakers wrote to Peggy Gustafson, the Commerce Department's IG.

“Secretary Ross’s holdings in Navigator, his sale of those holdings, and his lack of transparency with regard to those holdings, are especially troubling given that he is responsible for promoting the interests of U.S. companies and for implementing sanctions against Russia," they added. “American taxpayers deserve assurances that Secretary Ross can serve the public trust in a manner that is unbiased and free from conflicts of interest."

President TrumpDonald John TrumpAmash responds to 'Send her back' chants at Trump rally: 'This is how history's worst episodes begin' McConnell: Trump 'on to something' with attacks on Dem congresswomen Trump blasts 'corrupt' Puerto Rico's leaders amid political crisis MORE has reportedly considered replacing Ross, 80, and said the Cabinet secretary and longtime friend is "past his prime" and "no longer a killer," according to Politico.

In a statement, the Commerce Department said that Ross's transactions fully complied with ethical guidelines and countered claims that he has been given less responsibility in the administration.

"The Secretary continues to follow the guidance of Department of Commerce ethics officials to ensure compliance with federal laws and regulations," said James Rockas, a spokesman for the agency in an email, who added that "ethics officials have certified that the transactions documented are in compliance with federal ethics requirements."

"The President has been giving the Secretary more and more responsibilities including, but not limited to, a succession of space policy directives giving him a leading role in the commercial development of space and space traffic management. He also directed him to protect our most important technologies by examining export controls," he added.