Donald Trump’s commerce secretary, Wilbur Ross, earned at least $53 million from private companies while he was collecting a taxpayer salary and supposed to be looking out for the public instead of his own profits.
Ross reported making somewhere between $53 million and $127 million during his four years as head of the Commerce Department. The federal government only requires officials to report broad ranges of outside income.
It’s possible that Ross earned “significantly more” since he was not required to specify certain income totals over $1 million, noted watchdog Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, which reported Ross’ financial disclosure filings earlier this week.
Ross’ many and profitable entanglements with private companies while he was supposed to be looking out for the American taxpayer triggered concern and criticism.
“Even in an administration characterized by corruption, Ross became notorious for mixing personal business with his government role,” CREW said in a statement.
News of Ross’ income while serving in the Trump administration follows a bombshell report in The Washington Post last month that an “obscure” security office within the Commerce Department served as an aggressive “counterintelligence unit,” collecting information on hundreds of Americans, including the department’s own employees.
The Investigations and Threat Management Service covertly searched workers’ offices at night, conducted searches of their emails in a hunt for foreign influence, and pored over citizens’ social media posts for criticism of the census, which is run by the Commerce Department, the Post reported.
In one instance, the unit opened a case on a Florida retiree who simply tweeted that the census would be twisted to “benefit the Trump Party,” records show. The Biden administration has suspended ITMS investigations, according to the Post.
Ross is already engaged in a new enterprise, a special purpose acquisition company that reportedly attracted $300 million from investors. He established the company in the Cayman Islands in January while he was still in public office, Forbes reported.
Lawmakers, CREW and the Campaign Legal Center raised concerns about Ross’ business entanglements even as he negotiated in his government capacity with officials and other national leaders about issues likely to affect his profits.
CREW demanded a probe in 2017 into whether he fully divested from the Bank of Cyprus and recused himself from trade negotiations with China that could have affected his financial interests linked to Navigator Holdings and Diamond S Shipping.
CREW also filed a complaint against Ross the following year for possible insider trading and other violations when he reportedly shorted Navigator stock after learning that a negative story was coming out in The New York Times about his links to the company. In addition, the watchdog organization filed a complaint against Ross seeking an investigation into whether he violated criminal statutes by participating in several government meetings with companies that he had not divested from.
A report by the Commerce Department’s Inspector General’s Office late last year cleared Ross of insider trading accusations, but concluded that he violated the federal standard of failing to avoid the appearance of ethical and legal breaches.