The US government's oversight body on ethics said that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross violated his ethics agreement by misrepresenting stock ownership in the US. its financial statement form for 2018.
Ross – one of the wealthiest members of President Trump's cabinet – did not sell the shares he owned in a bank when he said otherwise, said Emory Rounds, director of the Office of Ethics government.
"As a result, OGE refuses to certify Secretary Ross's 2018 financial disclosure report," wrote Rounds in a letter dated February 15, "because this report was not accurate and it was not correct. was not in accordance with his agreement on ethics at the time of publication. "
Observers described the move as "very unusual" and one of them told CNN that the bureau 's decision amounted to "a pretty gigantic red flag". Richard Painter, an ethics lawyer for President George W. Bush, told the press that he had never seen the disclosure of a Cabinet member form rejected this way.
In a statement released Tuesday, Ross said he mistakenly believed that he had sold the assets in question – 100 shares of the BankUnited stock – in May 2017. When he realized that his mistake, he sold the shares and released the sale in October 2018.
According to Ross, the shares amounted to $ 3,700, an amount deemed by federal regulation to be "below the threshold of a potential conflict of interest" (according to a Bloomberg News report, this threshold is set at 15 $ 000 for publicly traded securities).
"Therefore, even if a BankUnited case had been brought before the Ministry while I held shares – and I have not been made aware of such a case – I would not have been prevented from working on it, "Ross said. He described the inaccuracy as "the only known error in my annual report".
In his letter, Rounds stated that his office had already warned Ross of his "non-compliance with his ethical commitments" and that "even unintentional mistakes could undermine public confidence in the secretary and the overall program. of ethics of his department ".
Ross has often been closely scrutinized by his investments, legislators and outside groups having asked for inquiries into his finances. In 2018, Sen. Ron Wyden (Oregon), the Senate's largest finance committee Democrat, asked Attorney General Jeff Sessions to review Ross's revelations of potential criminals ".
Ethics experts said that government officials, whether they act or not, should avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest.
"The American people have entrusted @SecretaryRoss with the power and authority so that it can ensure the well-being of the American economy," tweeted Delaney Marsco, a lawyer with Campaign Legal Center, a public interest group. "I do not think we should ask ourselves if he is making decisions for the benefit of the public or for his own wallet."
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