Trump commerce secretary mentioned in 'Paradise Papers': Media go nuts

Donald Trump's secretary of commerce, Wilbur Ross, is mentioned in the recently leaked "Paradise Papers" – documents that show the offshore holdings of about 120 companies and individuals.

What has the press in a tizzy are some connections to Russians (naturally) from Ross's former company.  There is also a question of whether Ross made the proper disclosures of some of his holdings.

But the lede to the story is buried 300 words into this NBC News report: "There is no evidence of illegality in their dealings."

Case closed, right?  Not if Russians are involved – even tangentially.

Ross – a billionaire industrialist – retains an interest in a shipping company, Navigator Holdings, that was partially owned by his former investment company. One of Navigator's most important business relationships is with a Russian energy firm controlled, in turn, by Putin's son-in-law and other members of the Russian president's inner circle.

"Lock him up," right?  His "former investment company" is "partially owned" by an energy company "controlled" by Putin's son-in-law.  So a company that Ross doesn't even own anymore is in bed with a Russian company run by Putin's son-in-law.  Why is this significant?

It's unclear whether any of Ross's vast holdings mentioned in the Paradise Papers should have been disclosed in his financial filings with congressional committees.  My guess is that his lawyers went by the letter of the law in their filings, making this entire story an exercise in partisan warfare.

In Ross's case, the documents give a far fuller picture of his finances than the filings he submitted to the government on Jan. 15 as part of his confirmation process. On that date, Ross, President-elect Donald Trump's choice for commerce secretary, submitted a letter to the designated ethics official at the department, explaining steps he was taking to avoid all conflicts of interest.

That explanation was vital to his confirmation, because Ross held financial interests in hundreds of companies across dozens of sectors, many of which could be affected by his decisions as commerce secretary. Any one of them could represent a potential conflict of interest, which is why the disclosures, by law, are supposed to be thorough.

"The information that he provided on that form is just a start. It is incomplete," said Kathleen Clark, an expert on government ethics at Washington University in St. Louis. "I have no reason to believe that he violated the law of disclosure, but in order … for the Commerce Department to understand, you'd have to have more information than what is listed on that form."

Ross is a very rich man.  A wise man once told me that if you want to be wealthy in the U.S., you take advantage of every possible legal avenue to avoid paying taxes.  This, Ross was able to do.  You can debate whether that's "fair" or even ethical, but there is no debate (from what we know) over whether Ross did anything illegal.

Raising the specter of Russians connected to a Trump Cabinet member is par for the course.  The media are just throwing crap against the wall to see if anything sticks.  Perhaps they could explain how Putin's son-in-law could have any influence whatsoever over someone he almost certainly wasn't aware of and who wasn't even in a position to be leveraged in the first place.

No doubt Democrats will scrutinize Ross's holdings to catch him in a nondisclosure offense.  Ross would have been dumb to deliberately withhold something he should have revealed, so the chances of the Dems finding anything are remote.

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