Commerce Nominee Ross Evades Questions About Reporting Trump’s Potential Conflicts of Interest

Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP

Wilbur Ross, Donald Trump’s nominee for commerce secretary, avoided giving a direct answer to questions about whether he will report potential conflicts of interest involving the Trump Organization that could arise in trade deals he would help negotiate.

During Ross’s confirmation hearing Wednesday, Senator Tom Udall, a Democrat from New Mexico, expressed concern that the president-elect has an unknown number of business interests around the world that may be impacted during trade talks with other countries. Trump said last week that he will not relinquish ownership of his businesses, though he said he’d give complete control to his sons. Udall wanted to know if Ross would tell Congress if another country offered incentives to the Trump Organization or threatened action against the company while he’s serving as commerce secretary.

“Well, anything that interferes with my job is something that I will have very little tolerance for if I’m confirmed, that I can assure you of,” Ross answered. The back-and-forth continued:

“Will you commit to report to this committee—it’s kind of a yes-or-no answer—if another country offers incentives or threatens consequences to the Trump family or the Trump Organization’s assets in the course of doing your job working on trade?” Udall asked.

“Well certainly if they threaten me I would be able to make people aware of it, but the hypothetical you are posing might very well be something I am not aware of, so that would make it very difficult to inform anyone of anything,” Ross answered.

“I’m talking about, within the course of doing your job and working on trade negotiations, somebody comes to you with either a threat or an incentive that involves the Trump Organization, would you let us at this committee know that this was happening?” Udall continued.

“Well, I’ll tell you two things. I know the president-elect quite well, and I think people who threaten him or offer inappropriate things will find that he doesn’t take that very lightly. There will be quite a strong response on his part, quite independently of anything I would do,” Ross said.

The line of questioning ended there, making it unclear how transparent Ross would be about Trump’s potential conflicts of interest. Ross, a billionaire investor, filed financial disclosures Tuesday with the federal Office of Government Ethics, promising to divest 80 assets and investment funds in the next several months and to step down from positions at companies where he has direct business interests. When Udall asked if Trump should make a similar move, Ross said that it’s a “personal decision” that only the president-elect can make.

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