Over the last few months, several of President Trump’s cabinet members have had problems with their financial disclosure reports, including Trump’s daughter and son-in-law, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, who both have faced fines for not turning their forms in on time. The latest staffer to have an issue with his disclosure is Wilbur Ross, Trump’s Secretary of Commerce.
Before Trump’s inauguration — and before he was required to submit his disclosure report — Ross quietly transferred more than $2 billion dollars into trusts for his family members, then left that money off of his form.
Forbes recently published a report about the missing funds after noticing that Ross’s form listed fewer assets than he’d previously told the magazine he owned.
As Forbes noted in the report:
‘The hidden assets raise questions about whether the Secretary of Commerce violated federal rules and whether his family owns billions in holdings that could create the appearance of conflicts of interest.’
Three months before the 2016 election, Ross’ assistant described his wealth to Forbes as follows:
‘$1.3 billion of municipal bonds, $1.3 billion worth of interests in general and limited partnerships, $550 million of equities, $225 million of art, $180 million in cash and $120 million worth of real estate.’
Based on the numbers his assistant provided, Ross’ wealth would add up to $3.7 billion.
When asked about the trusts to which he transferred so much of his money, Ross said that the beneficiaries are his children and “some third parties.”
‘I’m not the beneficiary of them. That’s the point. This is set up for children and things like that.’
When asked to provide more detail about the “third parties,” he said:
‘It’s a complicated story, but there are children from former marriages, things like that, that are not actually my children but who are beneficiaries.’
He also said that no one outside of his family is a beneficiary of the trusts, but refused to answer follow-up questions about the number of trusts, whether or not he can reclaim the assets after his time as Commerce Secretary is finished, and whether or not the trusts could pay him income in the future.
Walter Shaub, who recently resigned as the director of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics, told Forbes that it’s important to understand the rules governing the particular trusts that Ross deposited money into.
‘If someone were to divest an asset by giving it away, it’s important that that asset never wind up back in the donors’ hands again. If at some point in the future that person ends up with the asset again, it’s going to look like it was a sham divestiture.’
Richard Painter, who served as the chief ethics lawyer for President George W. Bush, has said that, while the multi-billion dollar transfer is not technically a conflict of interest, it is still troubling.
‘That’s an enormous amount. It technically avoids the conflict of interest statutes, but don’t you think that the Senate ought to know that he basically avoided it by handing the conflict-producing asset over to your kids?’
Ross, who was once named on The Forbes 400 list of America’s richest people, no longer qualifies for the list when the assets discussed above are not included in his total wealth. When asked about this, he said:
‘I don’t care if I’m on the list or not. That frankly doesn’t matter. But what I don’t want is for people to suddenly think that I’ve lost a lot of money when it’s not true.’
Featured image via Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images.