Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross Receives Warning From Office Of Government Ethics
On Thursday, U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross announced he would be divesting all of his equities after receiving a warning from the Office of Government Ethics (OGE) which cited a number of “omissions and inaccurate statements” in his financial self-reports.
Ross has since released a statement, admitting he had “made inadvertent errors in completing the divestitures required by my ethics agreement.”
As commerce secretary, Ross reported that he had completed his divestitures, as outlined in his ethics agreement, last November. But a month later, Ross filed transactions from two sales of Invesco Ltd stock, demonstrating that he had not in fact completed his divestments as falsely reported. His failure to sell the equities allowed the billionaire to make between $1.2 million to $6 million since the date they were supposed to have been sold, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis of his filings.
The agency also pointed out that Ross had “opened new short positions on various holdings that [he] committed to divesting in [his] Ethics Agreement, in contravention of that agreement.”
Ross claimed the shorts were supposed to be “technical ways of disposing the stocks.” But critics have been quick to jump on the excuse.
“I never heard of someone using short positions to divest,” Richard Painter, former chief White House ethics lawyer under George W. Bush, told CNBC.
Upon review, the OGE did not find any evidence that Ross was in violation of primary conflict of interest law, but noted that his failure to divest created the potential for a serious criminal violation… and undermined public confidence.”
As commerce secretary, Ross is permitted to maintain some of his investments. But, in a public display of atonement and “to maintain trust,” the secretary declared that he has “directed that all of my equity holdings be sold and the proceeds placed in U.S. Treasury securities.”