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Trump's faux-billionaire cabinet secretary faces new troubles

Donald Trump's billionaire Commerce secretary apparently lied about being a billionaire. And then Wilbur Ross' troubles got quite a bit worse.
U.S. Secretary of Commerce, Wilbur Ross gestures as he leaves after addressing delegates at the annual Confederation of British Industry (CBI) conference in east London, on November 6, 2017.
U.S. Secretary of Commerce, Wilbur Ross gestures as he leaves after addressing delegates at the annual Confederation of British Industry (CBI) conference in east London, on November 6, 2017.

When it comes to Donald Trump's beleaguered cabinet, there's no shortage of controversies, and one high-profile member has already been forced to resign. But of all the competing stories, the mess surrounding Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross' finances might be the most entertaining.

Two weeks ago, Forbes magazine reported that Ross, one of the president's billionaire cabinet members, appears to have been lying about being a billionaire. The article explained, in striking candor, that "Ross lied" to the magazine, and the "fibs, exaggerations, omissions, fabrications and whoppers" have been ongoing for over a decade.

This led the Bloomberg Billionaires Index to lower its net worth calculation for Ross to $860 million from $3 billion.

And while $860 million is the kind of extraordinary wealth most of us will never see, there's a whole round of new questions about the scope and consequences of Ross' alleged dishonesty. Forbes reported this week:

Six Senate Democrats requested an investigation of Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross on Monday, following reports that he apparently lied about his net worth and held onto investments in a shipping company that does business with a Russian enterprise partially owned by associates of Vladimir Putin.In a letter to the inspector general of the Commerce Department, the lawmakers also asked for an investigation of Wendy Teramoto, Ross' chief of staff, who worked with him for years at his investment firm WL Ross & Co. before joining the Commerce Department.

Among other things, these Senate Dems suspect Ross may not have been truthful with Congress during his cabinet confirmation process. Their letter asked the Commerce Department's inspector general to examine "whether Secretary Ross has provided fabrications about other assets or shielded the existence of assets, and the extent to which false representations impacted the evaluation of and implementation of the ethics agreements he must now follow."

And then, of course, there's Donald Trump himself, who hasn't yet reacted to this story, but who probably should given the circumstances.

I'm reminded of something the Washington Post's Dana Milbank recently wrote: "Ross has a problem I do not have.... He is in Trump's Cabinet because he is a putative billionaire, and Trump respects only billionaires and generals."

Agreed. It's not at all unreasonable to believe the president chose Ross for the job precisely because the president was so impressed with Ross' purported riches -- which, it now appears, were wildly exaggerated to the point of willful dishonesty.

Indeed, we don't really have to speculate about this. At a rally over the summer in Iowa, Trump explained why his administration is led in part by several Wall Street billionaires. "Somebody said, 'Why did you appoint a rich person to be in charge of the economy. I said, 'Because that's the kind of thinking we want ... because they're representing the country. They don't want the money."

The president continued, "I love all people -- rich or poor -- but in those particular positions, I just don't want a poor person." In context, the "particular positions" included the Secretary of Commerce. Indeed, Trump added that Ross is a "legendary Wall Street genius."

The question now is, will the president still hold Ross in high regard now that the evidence suggests his net worth is only $860 million?