When it comes to the Russia scandal and Donald Trump’s cabinet, much of the focus has been on Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and for good reason. The Alabama Republican has made quite a few claims under oath about interactions with Russia that don’t appear to be true.But let’s not forget Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.
If you’ve been keeping an eye on Rachel’s coverage of the Russia scandal in recent months, you may recall that Ross helped lead the highly controversial Bank of Cyprus, home to a Russian oligarch who did this otherwise inexplicable real-estate transaction with Donald Trump in Palm Beach a few years ago
Over the weekend, NBC News raised new questions about Ross, reporting that Trump’s cabinet secretary “shares business interests with Vladimir Putin’s immediate family,” which Ross failed to previously disclose.
Ross – a billionaire industrialist – retains an interest in a shipping company, Navigator Holdings, that was partially owned by his former investment company. One of Navigator’s most important business relationships is with a Russian energy firm controlled, in turn, by Putin’s son-in-law and other members of the Russian president’s inner circle.
Some of the details of Ross’s continuing financial holdings – much of which were not disclosed during his confirmation process – are revealed in a trove of more than 7 million internal documents of Appleby, a Bermuda-based law firm, that was leaked to the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung. The documents consist of emails, presentations and other electronic data. These were then shared with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists – a global network that won the Pulitzer Prize this year for its work on the Panama Papers – and its international media partners. NBC News was given access to some of the leaked documents, which the ICIJ calls the “Paradise Papers.”
The New York Times published a related piece, noting that Ross’ personal share in Navigator Holdings lessened after he became a cabinet secretary, but he maintained a multi-million-dollar investment in the company, which this year increased its business dealings with Sibur, a giant Russian energy company whose clients include Putin’s family member.
There’s no shortage of questions here, starting with why Ross didn’t divest to avoid potential conflicts. Given that he’s a billionaire, and his investment stake is valued at between $2 million and $10 million, it’s odd that Ross would invite controversy by holding onto the partnership stake.
And then there’s the disclosure question. From the NBC News report:
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said members of Congress who were part of Ross’ confirmation hearings were under the impression that Ross had divested all of his interests in Navigator. Furthermore, he said, they were unaware of Navigator’s close ties to Russia.
“I am astonished and appalled because I feel misled,” said Blumenthal. “Our committee was misled, the American people were misled by the concealment of those companies.” Blumenthal said he will call for the inspector general of the Commerce Department to launch an investigation.
I don’t imagine we’ve heard the last of this one.