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Office of Government Ethics Fights Sec. Wilbur Ross Over $3,700

Wilbur Ross, Hillary Clinton
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MICHELLE MOONS
Washington, DC

The Office of Government Ethics that once defended Hillary Clinton has refused to certify Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’s public financial disclosure report over a “de minimis” and corrected $3,700 in stock.

Office of Government Ethics Director Emory Rounds declined to certify Ross’s public financial disclosure report on February 15, 2019, citing what Ross has identified as a dollar amount federal regulations consider “below the threshold of a possible conflict of interest.”

Secretary Ross said in response to the refusal to certify:

When I joined the Department of Commerce, I agreed to divest many of my financial interests.  Among those were shares of BankUnited stock I was awarded when I served as a director between 2009 and 2014.  I directed the sale of those shares in May 2017.

I later discovered that I continued to hold 100 directors qualifying shares of BankUnited stock.  These shares were held in book entry form by BankUnited’s stock transfer agent.  I previously reported selling the shares on May 31, 2017 based on a mistaken belief that the agent executed my sell order on that date.  These 100 shares were worth approximately $3,700, an amount that federal regulations deem de minimis and below the threshold of a possible conflict of interest.  Therefore, even if a BankUnited matter had come before the Department while I owned the shares – and I have not been made aware of any such matter – I would not have been disqualified from working on it.  As soon as I learned that the shares had not been sold, I again took action to direct their sale and disclosed the sale of these 100 shares on October 31, 2018, correcting the only known error in my annual report.  While I am disappointed that my report was not certified, I remain committed to complying with my ethics agreement and adhering to the guidance of Commerce ethics officials.

Two years ago, in January 2017, the then-head of OGE was Walter Shaub, who defended Hillary Clinton in not disclosing payments of $26.4 million for speeches paid by corporations, foreign sources, and universities to the Clinton Foundation while she was Secretary of State, according to the Washington Free Beacon.

This included $500,000 for a speech former President Bill Clinton gave in Moscow to “a Kremlin-tied investment bank in Moscow in 2010, while the Russians were negotiating to acquire a uranium company full of Clinton Foundation donors.”

Ethics lawyers cited in the report, however, said the non-disclosure did pose an issue with disclosure and an ethics agreement between the Obama administration and Clinton Foundation was installed to prevent conflicts of interest. 

After leaving OGE, Shaub joined Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) as a senior advisor. He called Rounds “the right pick to lead the Office of Government Ethics” in a statement on Rounds’ confirmation process that pointed to “historic challenges OGE faces.”

He lauded Rounds’ confirmation hearing commitment to review a previously OGE approved legal defense fund that Shaub claimed was “constructed in a way that potentially gives the president’s allies power to influence witness testimony in the Russia investigation.”

CREW tweeted out the OGE refusal to certify Ross’s financial disclosure report over $3,700 in stock sale timing Tuesday:

Upon hiring Shaub, CREW Executive Director Noah Bookbinder made clear it was targeting the Trump administration: “The unprecedented ethical failures of the Trump administration have us working day and night…With Walt Shaub joining Virginia Canter, we are in a better position than ever to fight back on ethics issues.”

Michelle Moons is a White House Correspondent for Breitbart News — follow on Twitter @MichelleDiana and Facebook

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