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 RossOvernight Energy: Top presidential candidates to skip second climate forum | Group sues for info on 'attempts to politicize' NOAA | Trump allows use of oil reserve after Saudi attacks Group sues Trump administration for info related to 'attempts to politicize NOAA' NOAA chief praises agency scientists after statement backing up Trump tweet MORE.

The lawmakers who signed the letter include Reps. Maxine WatersMaxine Moore WatersBipartisan housing finance reform on the road less taken Manufacturing group leads coalition to urge Congress to reauthorize Ex-Im Bank Democrats' impeachment message leads to plenty of head-scratching MORE (Calif.) and Elijah CummingsElijah Eugene CummingsOvernight Defense: Trump says he has 'many options' on Iran | Hostage negotiator chosen for national security adviser | Senate Dems block funding bill | Documents show Pentagon spent at least 4K at Trump's Scotland resort Top Oversight Democrat demands immigration brass testify Documents show Pentagon spent at least 4,000 at Trump's Turnberry resort in Scotland 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 TrumpTrump conversation with foreign leader part of complaint that led to standoff between intel chief, Congress: report Pelosi: Lewandowski should have been held in contempt 'right then and there' Trump to withdraw FEMA chief nominee: report 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.