Scrutiny ramps up over Commerce secretary's stock moves

Scrutiny ramps up over Commerce secretary's stock moves
© Anna Moneymaker

A top Senate Democrat and a government watchdog are calling for an investigation into stock moves made by Commerce Secretary Wilbur RossWilbur Louis RossOVERNIGHT ENERGY: WH pushed for 'correction' to Weather Service tweet contradicting Trump in 'Sharpiegate' incident, watchdog says | Supreme Court rules that large swath of Oklahoma belongs to Native American tribe WH pushed for 'correction' to Weather Service tweet contradicting Trump in 'Sharpiegate' incident, watchdog says  OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Watchdog accuses Commerce of holding up 'Sharpiegate' report | Climate change erases millennia of cooling: study | Senate nixes proposal limiting Energy Department's control on nuclear agency budget MORE.

Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenMnuchin: Next stimulus bill must cap jobless benefits at 100 percent of previous income Congress must act now to fix a Social Security COVID-19 glitch and expand, not cut, benefits On The Money: Trump administration releases PPP loan data | Congress gears up for battle over expiring unemployment benefits | McConnell opens door to direct payments in next coronavirus bill MORE (Ore.) and the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW)
wants answers about whether Ross shorted stock knowing that a New York Times story about his financial holdings was imminent and if he made false statements or engaged in insider trading about his stocks.

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CREW sent a letter to Deputy Attorney General Rod RosensteinRod RosensteinSupreme Court to hear dispute over Democrats' access to Mueller materials Republicans release newly declassified intelligence document on FBI source Steele GOP's Obama-era probes fuel Senate angst MORE and David Apol, the acting director of the Office of Government Ethics (OGE), to investigate whether Ross made a false statement about divesting himself of his stock in Invesco, assets he was required sell, which was the firm he managed before taking the Commerce job.

CREW also has asked for an investigation into whether he shorted Navigator stock in Oct. 2017 ahead of a forthcoming Times story about his financial holdings.

The watchdog argues that there is substantial evidence that Ross "may have knowingly and willfully made false or fraudulent statements when he certified to OGE that he had completed divestiture of all required assets."

Federal law prohibits anyone from knowingly making “any materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or representation” in any matter within the executive branch, CREW said.

“Secretary Ross’s actions appear to demonstrate a knowing and repeated disregard for his ethics obligations,” said CREW Executive Director Noah Bookbinder.

“The seriousness of his actions, potentially including using his position for insider trading, warrants an immediate and thorough investigation," Bookbinder said.

Ross has denied any wrongdoing.

Wyden, the ranking member on the Senate Finance Committee, sent a letter to Ross on Friday asking him to answer five questions explaining the timing and circumstances surrounding the short sale of stock in Navigator.

He said that news reports this week and new filings posted by the OGE "raise new questions regarding trades you made pertaining to your stake in Navigator Holdings, a publicly traded shipping firm which reportedly does business with Sibur, a Russian energy company owned by individuals sanctioned for their close ties to President Vladimir Putin."

The short sale happened last year after a Times reporter contacted Ross to ask about his holdings in Navigator. OGE filings show that Ross shorted the stock worth up to $250,000, then sold it after the story was published.

In the time before Ross sold the stock, Navigator shares fell 4 percent.