Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross exaggerated his net worth and claimed to be a multi-billionaire. New reporting reveals he was worth billions less and pushed the lie for years while profiting from it.
Donald Trump has been quite proud of his Cabinet, which has been packed to the gills with multi-millionaires out of touch with the financial struggles of ordinary Americans.
That fundamental fact is still true, but a new report has exposed that Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross is worth billions of dollars less than he claimed to be.
Ross is still extraordinarily wealthy, but Forbes reports that Ross has been involved in a series of "fibs, exaggerations, omissions, fabrications and whoppers" for 13 years designed to make him look like a billionaire. On his financial disclosure forms filed with the government, Ross had to admit he is worth less than $700 million — far less than the $3.7 billion he claimed in private.
Ross used his fake "billionaire" claim to round up business for his private equity firm. Forbes notes that once he got access to those deals, Ross screwed them up, "resulting in millions of dollars in fines, tens of millions refunded to backers and numerous lawsuits."
Additionally, Ross did not reveal 19 lawsuits pending against him, or his multimillion-dollar role in a shipping company tied to Russia's government when he filled out government disclosure forms.
The same behavior has occurred across the Trump administration, as his underlings echo Trump's own dismissive posture toward ethics and doing business above board.
Forbes reports that Ross appeared to have an insatiable desire to be listed on the Forbes 400 list of the wealthiest people in the world, and when a reporter erroneously overstated his wealth at $1 billion, he went along with it.
He continued to repeatedly exaggerate his worth to the magazine, stating in a 2011 email, "I would say the total now is a bit more than $2 billion." A few month later, he ramped up the deception in another email, writing that "2.75 [billion] is a bit low but probably close enough." A year later, Ross was arguing that he was worth $3.45 billion but would accept the magazine's estimate of $3.1 billion even though all the estimates were billions of dollars off.
Ross was so obsessed with staying on the Forbes list that he claimed $2 billion in assets had been transferred to his family members after the election and his nomination to serve in the Trump Cabinet. When Democrats raised questions about the ethics of the supposed transfer, including why it wasn't on Ross' disclosure forms, the Department of Commerce admitted it never happened.
The department blamed the report in Forbes, but the lie originated from the man now in charge of the agency: Wilbur Ross.
The entire scandal is reminiscent of Trump's own exaggerations about his wealth. He also complained that Forbes underestimated his net worth. He even sued writer Tim O'Brien, who estimated that while media reports estimated Trump was worth $2.7 billion, he was closer to $150-250 million. Trump's lawsuit was unsuccessful.
In 2015, Trump claimed to be worth more than $10 billion — a number that has never been supported by any of the sparse documentation Trump has provided.
Unlike Ross, who is required to disclose his financial information, Trump has avoided such scrutiny. He has continued to keep his tax returns a secret, so nobody can tell if he's as much of a fraud as his commerce secretary.
But he probably is.