Is Trump's billionaire Commerce Secretary an actual billionaire?

An employee at a money changer counts $100 bills.
An employee at a money changer counts $100 bills.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross' finances may seem like an exceedingly dry topic, but they've become surprisingly interesting of late. As we discussed yesterday, his leadership role at the Bank of Cyprus is a matter of ongoing controversy, but so are his previously undisclosed financial holdings, and his investment in Navigator Holdings, which has exclusive business deals with Russian oligarchs and a member of Vladimir Putin's family.

But Forbes magazine has a different kind of report today, asking whether Donald Trump's billionaire commerce secretary is actually a billionaire.

Fresh off a tour through Thailand, Laos and China, United States Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross Jr. picked up the phone on a Sunday afternoon in October to discuss something deeply personal: how much money he has. A year earlier, Forbes had listed his net worth at $2.9 billion on The Forbes 400, a number Ross claimed was far too low: He maintained he was closer to $3.7 billion. Now, after examining the financial-disclosure forms he filed after his nomination to President Donald Trump's Cabinet, which showed less than $700 million in assets, Forbes was intent on removing him entirely.Ross protested, citing trusts for his family that he said he did not have to disclose in federal filings. "You're apparently not counting those, which are more than $2 billion," he said. When asked for documentation, the 79-year-old demurred, citing "privacy issues." Told that Forbes nonetheless planned to remove him from the list for the first time in 13 years, he responded: "As long as you explain that the reason is that assets were put into trust, I'm fine with that." And when did he make the transfer that allowed him to not disclose over $2 billion? "Between the election and the nomination."So began the mystery of Wilbur Ross' missing $2 billion. And after one month of digging, Forbes is confident it has found the answer: That money never existed.

The article added, in unusual candor, that Forbes believes that "Ross lied" to the magazine, and the "fibs, exaggerations, omissions, fabrications and whoppers" have been ongoing for over a decade.

Making matters worse, Forbes further reported that Trump's commerce secretary has also misled "colleagues and investors" about his personal wealth.

The magazine talked to one former official from Ross' firm who said, "Wilbur doesn't have an issue with bending the truth." Another former colleague, who requested anonymity, was less circumspect: "He's lied to a lot of people."

This reporting hasn't been independently verified by MSNBC or NBC News, but at face value, Forbes' report is a doozy.