Senate Democrats demand information about Wilbur Ross' meetings with industry

Wilbur Ross
Last March, a group of senators said, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross met with the heads of both Chevron and Boeing, companies he had financial investments in at the time of the meeting. | Win McNamee/Getty Images

A group of Senate Democrats on Friday demanded information concerning what they said was a possible breach of federal ethics laws by Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, asking the department’s top ethics official to provide details on meetings Ross participated in with officials in whose companies he had investments.

In a letter to David Maggi, Commerce’s designated agency ethics official, Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) cited recently released calendars of Ross’ schedule that revealed meetings with the heads of three companies the secretary had financial interests in at the time. They asked whether Ross had complied with ethics guidelines or had been advised by ethics officials at the time of the meetings.

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Last March, the senators said, Ross met with the heads of both Chevron and Boeing, companies the secretary had financial investments in at the time of the meeting. Ross divested his interest in both companies about a month after the meetings.

In May 2017, Ross attended a meeting that reportedly included the head of railroad freight car manufacturing company Greenbrier and had lunch with chief executive William Furman a few days later at the White House. The senators said that though Ross did not disclose a financial stake in Greenbrier on his initial ethics disclosure, he held at least $250,000 in stock until December 2017.

Federal ethics laws state that executive branch officials, which include Cabinet secretaries, are barred from participating “personally and substantially” in matters that they, a family member, or a business partner hold a financial interest in.

“Secretary Ross’s decisions to meet with senior Chevron, Boeing, and Greenbrier officials while maintaining his investments in those companies raises questions about his compliance with federal conflict of interest criminal statutes,” the senators wrote.

The group asked for details by Nov. 23 concerning the meetings and whether or not Ross had received a waiver from the agency’s ethics office or any other follow-up from ethics experts with respect to those meetings.

A spokesperson for the Commerce Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.