Dressed in a blue suit and red tie, Donald Trump’s 79-year-old pick for Secretary of Commerce sat before a panel of senators for nearly four hours in January, deflecting dozens of questions with relative ease. When one legislator at the confirmation hearing asked Wilbur Ross how he would ensure that his official actions did not create conflicts of interest, given his vast personal holdings, Ross left little room for criticism. “I intend to be quite scrupulous about recusal and any topic where there is the slightest scintilla of doubt,” he said.
What he left unsaid, however, was that between the November election and January inauguration, he had quietly moved a chunk of assets into trusts for his family members, leaving more than $2 billion off of his financial disclosure report – and therefore out of the public eye. Ross revealed the existence of those assets, and the timing of the transfer, when Forbes asked why his financial disclosure form listed fewer assets than he had previously told the magazine he owned.
The hidden assets raise questions about whether the Secretary of Commerce violated federal rules and whether his family owns billions in holdings that could create the appearance of conflicts of interest.
Federal law requires incoming cabinet members to disclose assets they currently own, as well as any that produced income during the current and previous calendar years, even if they no longer own the assets. Ross says he followed all rules. But how someone could apparently hold $2 billion in assets, without producing big income that would show up on a financial disclosure report, raises more questions than answers.
Three months before the 2016 election, Ross’ assistant described his portfolio to Forbes as a mix that would theoretically throw off plenty of cash: $1.3 billion of municipal bonds, $1.3 billion worth of interests in general and limited partnerships, $550 million of equities, $225 million of art, $180 million in cash and $120 million worth of real estate.
That adds up to $3.7 billion. Last year, Forbes asked for documentation to prove the existence of those assets, received nothing in return, and ultimately estimated Ross’ fortune at a more conservative $2.9 billion for its annual Forbes 400 list of the richest Americans, published in October. This year, the Secretary of Commerce said he would dig up a breakdown of the assets he transferred into trusts, but he never sent anything. It is unclear whether he cited accurate figures either year.
Ross gave some clues about the structure of the trusts. “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.
But he did not answer more than a dozen follow-up questions, including how many trusts there are, whether he can reclaim the assets after he leaves government, and whether the trusts could pay him income in the future.
Walter Shaub, who resigned as the director of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics in July 2017, said the rules governing a particular trust are key to understanding whether an official has to disclose the entire trust, or just the assets that produced income shortly before they were transferred out of the filer’s hands. “If someone were to divest an asset by giving it away, it’s important that that asset never wind up back in the donors’ hands again,” Shaub said. “If at some point in the future that person ends up with the asset again, it’s going to look like it was a sham divestiture.”
Two trust attorneys expressed doubt that Ross suddenly made a clean transfer of more than $2 billion to his family, a move that could trigger gift taxes of $800 million or more. Such a move would be especially perplexing, they said, since the Trump administration has proposed easing the tax burden on transfers between generations. “If the estate tax goes away,” said Donald Hamburg, a New York City-based trusts and estates attorney, “then why would you pay a lot of money to get property out of your estate to save estate taxes?”
Ross said he followed all tax rules. It is possible that he transferred some of the assets to his family members years ago. He initially told Forbes that he transferred assets into the trusts shortly after the Nov. 8, 2016 election. But in a later email, he hinted that some of the assets may have belonged to his family members previously. “My personal financial affairs have been complex for a number of years, not just one,” he wrote. “The rough estimates used by Forbes for many years were based on a broad definition of family assets.”
Ross would not have been required to disclose assets that earned income in 2016 if he had transferred those assets to children in prior years. He did not answer a follow-up question directly asking if he had transferred some of the assets to his family members before the election.
In any case, the fact that the Secretary of Commerce says his family members are beneficiaries to trusts with more than $2 billion worth of undisclosed assets raised concerns among ethics experts. “That’s an enormous amount,” said Richard Painter, who served as the chief ethics lawyer for President George W. Bush. “It technically avoids the conflict of interest statutes, but don’t you think that the Senate ought to know that he basically avoided it by handing the conflict-producing asset over to your kids?”
Not including the undisclosed assets, Ross retains an estimated $700 million, still enough to make him one of the richest members of Donald Trump’s cabinet but not enough to qualify for The Forbes 400 list of America’s richest people. “I don’t care if I’m on the list or not,” he said. “That frankly doesn’t matter. But what I don’t want is for people to suddenly think that I’ve lost a lot of money when it’s not true.” – Written by ,
Elon Musk, Kim Kardashian Endorse Kanye West Running For President
After years of hints, Kanye West formally announced he is running for president this year in a challenge to Trump, who he once supported, and Democratic rival Joe Biden, winning support from his friend and Tesla CEO Elon Musk.
- Rounding off his Fourth of July, West tweeted on Saturday night: “We must now realize the promise of America by trusting God, unifying our vision and building our future. I am running for president of the United States! #2020VISION.”
- Musk tweeted in response: “You have my full support!”
- Wife Kim Kardashian also publicly pledged her support, retweeting West’s statement and adding a U.S. flag emoji.
- West’s announcement follows years of hints that he would run for office this year which he later postponed to 2024, after publicly declaring at a Fast Company event in 2019: “When I run for president in 2024…We would create so many jobs! I’m not going to run, I’m going to walk.”
- But the rapper, who recently inked a 10-year deal with Gap through his Yeezy brand, is reportedly yet to file any paperwork to get on state election ballots, while he has missed the deadline for states including Texas, New York, and Indiana.
- It is not known how serious West’s intentions are this time around, however, he still has time to file as an independent candidate across most states, according to Ballotpedia.
- West’s declaration was met with skepticism on social media, while some commentators pointed out that it could work out in Trump’s favour.
West’s declaration suggests the rapper is looking to cement political ambitions he has expressed throughout Trump’s presidency. West previously forged alliances with Trump, and was pictured in the Oval Office in 2018 wearing a signature Trump ‘Make America Great Again’ cap. He once called the president his “brother” and previously hit back at criticism towards his support for Trump, likening the backlash to racial discrimination. Although he says he didn’t vote in 2016, West later said he “would have voted for Trump”, and earlier this year doubled down, suggesting he would vote for him in November. But that could very well change given Saturday’s announcement.
West and Musk were pictured together on July 1st, with West tweeting: “When you go to your boys [sic] house and you’re both wearing orange.”
Burundi’s President Pierre Nkurunziza Has Died
This is a developing story.
Burundi’s President Pierre Nkurunziza has died, the government of the Republic of Burundi announced in a statement that was posted on their twitter account.
“The Government of the Republic of Burundi announces with great sadness the unexpected death of His Excellency Pierre Nkurunziza, President of the Republic of Burundi, at the Karusi Fiftieth Anniversary Hospital following a cardiac arrest on June 8, 2020,”
Ethiopia’s First Female President On Plans To Combat Covid-19 And Resuscitate The Economy
Ethiopia’s first female president, Sahle-Work Zewde, spoke to FORBES AFRICA’s Managing Editor, Renuka Methil, on the country’s plans to combat Covid-19 and resuscitate one of the fastest growing economies in Africa.
Zewde, listed as one of Africa’s ‘50 Most Powerful Women’ in the March issue of FORBES AFRICA, says while the virus didn’t warrant the nation going into complete lockdown, it has hit some sectors of the East African country’s economy, affecting its GDP growth.
In early May, the government announced a package to bolster healthcare spending, food distribution, rebuild SMMEs, etc to support the country’s most vulnerable. Zewde also shares her views on women in the front lines, as well as reimagining education.
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