Watchdog accuses Wilbur Ross of violating conflict of interest laws, calls for probe into finances

Watchdog accuses Wilbur Ross of violating conflict of interest laws, calls for probe into finances
© Greg Nash

A nonpartisan watchdog group has filed a complaint against Commerce Secretary Wilbur RossWilbur Louis RossNOAA hurricane forecast predicts record number of storms in 2020 33K laptops meant for Alabama distance learning are stuck in customs, could be held until October Mini-exodus of Trump officials from Commerce to lobby on semiconductors MORE, accusing him of violating conflict of interest laws and calling for an extensive inquiry into his personal finance holdings.

The Campaign Legal Center filed a 115-page complaint against Ross on Monday. Besides the conflict of interest law violation, it also alleges that Ross made false statements.

The group asks the Commerce Department’s inspector general to open an investigation into its top official.

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“We conducted a detailed review of public records and found reason to suspect Ross violated the criminal conflict-of-interest law,” Delaney Marsco, ethics counsel at the Campaign Legal Center, told the Center for Public Integrity. “It’s imperative that the inspector general get to the bottom of this. There’s a lot of smoke, and we need to know if there’s fire.”

The Hill reached out to the Commerce Department for comment and was directed to a statement Ross’s attorney, Theodore Kassinger, gave CNN on Monday. 

“Secretary Ross has not violated any conflict of interest law or regulation,” Kassinger wrote. “He has not participated personally and substantially in, nor taken any action in regard to a particular matter that would have had a direct and predictable effect on his financial investments.”

Kassinger said the Campaign Legal Center’s “framing of these assertions and their conclusion are simply wrong.” 

The review comes a month after reports that Ross failed to sell millions of dollars in stock with Invesco Ltd. 

letter from Office of Government Ethics acting Director David Apol criticized Ross for failing to divest stocks by Jan. 15, 2017 — the date indicated on his ethics agreement.

The letter also noted that Ross said he had complied with the ethics agreement in November 2017, but that the transactions in Invesco took place a month later.

Ross admitted to “inadvertent errors” in selling the holdings and in response to the ethics office said last month that he would sell all of his equity shares, though he said federal law did not require him to sell all of them.

The Campaign Legal Center questioned Ross's claim in the complaint, saying it "seems implausible" that he did not know he still owned the Invesco stock. 

Ross appears to have earned seven figures in the months he still held the stock holdings, the Center for Public Integrity noted

—Updated at 5:16 p.m.