President Trump’s commerce secretary Wilbur Ross, a key member of Trump’s cabinet, was just caught sharing business interests with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s immediate family, according to a breaking report coming out of NBC News.
Not only that – but Ross failed to disclose that business while being confirmed by the Senate to be a part of Trump’s administration.
Per NBC News:
“Ross — a billionaire industrialist — retains an interest in a shipping company, Navigator Holdings, that was partially owned by his former investment company. One of Navigator’s most important business relationships is with a Russian energy firm controlled, in turn, by Putin’s son-in-law and other members of the Russian president’s inner circle.
Some of the details of Ross’s continuing financial holdings — much of which were not disclosed during his confirmation process — are revealed in a trove of more than 7 million internal documents of Appleby, a Bermuda-based law firm, that was leaked to the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung. The documents consist of emails, presentations and other electronic data. These were then shared with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists— a global network that won the Pulitzer Prize this year for its work on the Panama Papers — and its international media partners. NBC News was given access to some of the leaked documents, which the ICIJ calls the “Paradise Papers.”
Following the report, the New York Times also found that the offshore accounts talked about in the document leak shows references to offshore accounts held by Gary Cohn, Trump’s chief economic advisor, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Currently, people are reviewing if there is anything illegal in their dealings.
Senator Richard Blumenthal, who was a part of Ross’ confirmation process, said that he felt he was misled by Ross, and said he thought the commerce secretary had already divested himself of any conflicts of interest. He is now calling for a more in-depth investigation.
“I am astonished and appalled because I feel misled,” said Blumenthal. “Our committee was misled, the American people were misled by the concealment of those companies.”
It turns out, one of those companies that profited is directly linked to Putin, and is part of Russia’s leadership inner circle through Gennady Timchenko, a Russian billionaire. This is where things get really murky: Timchenko is on the Treasury Department’s sanctions list – he can’t even enter the U.S. legally because he’s barred from doing so.
“I would think that any reputable American businessman, much less a Cabinet-level official, would want to have absolutely no relationship — direct, indirect — … with anybody of the character and reputation of Gennady Timchenko,” said Daniel Fried, a State Department sanctions coordinator under President Obama. “I just don’t get it.”
Bottom line: Trump’s Commerce Secretary not only hid the business arrangement but may also have committed perjury. Former chief White House ethics lawyer Richard Painter called it a criminal offense:
“Secretary Ross cannot participate in any discussion or decision-making or recommendation about sanctions imposed on Russia or on Russian nationals when he owns a company that is doing business with Russian nationals who are either under sanctions or who could come under sanctions in any future sanctions regime,” Painter said. “That would be a criminal offense for him to participate in any such matter.”
The news comes as Special Counsel Robert Mueller is said to be bringing another set of indictments against Trump’s former national security advisor Michael Flynn, with more expected to come shortly.