Trump’s Pick for Commerce Secretary May Have the Biggest Conflicts of Them All
Many of President-elect Donald Trump’s cabinet picks are titans of industry with significant potential business conflicts of interest.
But there is one in a class by himself: Commerce secretary choice Wilbur Ross.
Ross has made a fortune in the steel industry — an industry of which the Commerce Department has significant oversight. Indeed, government transition documents show that the Commerce Department is slated to make no fewer than five decisions about steel trade soon after the inauguration which will directly affect businesses that Ross has a stake in.
“It’s on a different order of magnitude and complexity than any other cabinet pick,” said Norman Eisen, the White House’s chief ethics lawyer in the Obama administration from 2009 to 2011. “Now it’s up to him to figure if he can do this job and, if so, how he can do it given his entanglements.”
Transition briefing documents, which ProPublica obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, show how closely the Commerce Department is focused on enforcing and monitoring global steel supplies and demand. They make clear how the department’s decisions could greatly benefit ArcelorMittal, the world’s largest steel producer, where Ross retains a stake and has long sat on the board (he was re-elected to a three-year term in 2015).
Ross has other potential conflicts. While Ross talks tough on China, he is an equity investor in a shipping company with a Chinese sovereign wealth fund. He has also invested in the China Huaneng Group, a state-owned power generator run by the eldest son of Li Peng, the former prime minister.
Ross sits on the boards of five publicly traded companies. Among them is the Bank of Cyprus, where he is vice chairman, and where he has been an investor along with Russian oligarchs.
“His business contacts are deep and wide,” said Kurt Schulzke, director of the Corporate Governance Center at Kennesaw State University. “Life could be very complicated for Wilbur Ross if he chooses to hang onto those interests.” Read full article