Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross told Forbes that he took $US2 billion worth of assets and put them in undisclosed trusts between the election of President Donald Trump and his own confirmation hearings in Congress.
After the magazine reported the details, as part of its list of the 400 richest people in America, the Commerce Department took it all back.
The Commerce Department said Ross — a private equity and commodities tycoon worth $US2.5 billion, according to Forbes — was confused when he told reporter Dan Alexander about the trusts.
“Contrary to the report in Forbes, there was no major asset transfer to a trust in the period between the election and Secretary Ross’s confirmation,” a statement from the Commerce Department said. “There must have been a miscommunication between Secretary Ross and the Forbes reporter. That is unfortunate, and we apologise for any confusion.”
See, here’s how this happened. Every year Forbes does a list of the 400 richest people in the country. This requires reporting, and so reporters call the super-wealthy to ask them questions about their net worth.
Three months before the 2016 election, Forbes called one of Ross’ people and they pegged his net worth at $US3.7 billion. Of course, his financial disclosures to the government during his confirmation showed he was worth much less, so Forbes said they would have to take him off the 400 list.
“Yeah,” Ross responded, “as long as you put in that the reason is, that explain that the reason is that assets were put into trust, I’m fine with that.”
In other words: Yeah, as long as you make sure everyone understands I’m not really less rich — I mean, I’m still really, really rich. I just had to shift some things around to be Commerce Secretary. You know how it is.
There has to be a term for this — for the moment an extremely wealthy people explain to mere mortals (or even merely sort of wealthy people) what the super-rich do with their money. Let’s call it rich-splaining.
Ross rich-splained a few more things about the assets he was talking about too (from Forbes):
“I’m not the beneficiary of them,” he said. “That’s the point. This is set up for children and things like that.” Are his children the only beneficiaries? “Yes, well, and some third parties.” What are the third parties? “It’s a complicated story, but there are children from former marriages, things like that, that are not actually my children but who are beneficiaries.” His wife’s two children? “No, others. We’ve both had a couple of marriages, as you probably know.” He said no one outside of his family is a beneficiary of the trusts.”
That’s all Forbes got. Ross didn’t answer follow up questions, so all that’s left are conjectures. Why would Ross feel the need to transfer this money to his kids if Trump was about to repeal the estate tax? Don’t these assets still impact his decision-making? Shouldn’t the US government know about them?
It was only after Forbes published a story raising all of these questions that the Commerce Department tried to play this all down as a big misunderstanding.
We should note here that during Ross’ hearings, some senators were falling all over themselves, praising him for his transparency and for how swiftly he divested himself of his empire.
So much for that.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Business Insider.
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