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 RossChina sanctions Wilbur Ross, others after US warns of doing business in Hong Kong DOJ won't prosecute Wilbur Ross after watchdog found he gave false testimony Commerce Department unit gathered intel on employees, census critics: report MORE.

Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenDemocrats warn shrinking Biden's spending plan could backfire Democrats release data showing increase in 'mega-IRA' accounts Senate Democrats press administration on human rights abuses in Philippines 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 RosensteinWashington still needs more transparency House Judiciary to probe DOJ's seizure of data from lawmakers, journalists The Hill's Morning Report - Biden-Putin meeting to dominate the week 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.