Wilbur Ross told Forbes he hid $2 billion from the government and then took it back

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross told Forbes that he took $2 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 $2.5 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 apologize for any confusion."

Oh.

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.

Check out who cracked the top 9 richest people on this year's list:

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Forbes 9 richest people in America, 2017
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Forbes 9 richest people in America, 2017

Larry Page: $44.6 billion

Source of wealth: Google

Age: 44

Residence: Palo Alto, California

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Michael Bloomberg: $46.8 billion

Source of wealth: Bloomberg LP

Age: 75

Residence: New York, New York

Read more on Forbes

6. David Koch: $48.5 billion

Source of wealth: Diversified

Age: 77

Residence: New York, New York

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6. Charles Koch: $48.5 billion

Source of wealth: Diversified

Age: 81

Residence: Wichita, Kansas

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5. Larry Ellison: $59 billion

Source of wealth: Software

Age: 73

Residence: Woodside, California

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4. Mark Zuckerberg: $71 billion

Source of wealth: Facebook

Age: 33

Residence: Palo Alto, California

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3. Warren Buffett: $78 billion

Source of wealth: Berkshire Hathaway

Age: 87

Residence: Omaha, Nebraska

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2. Jeff Bezos: $81.5 billion

Source of wealth: Amazon.com

Age: 53

Residence: Seattle, Washington

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1. Bill Gates: $89 billion

Source of wealth: Microsoft

Age: 61

Residence: Medina, Washington

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Three months before the 2016 election, Forbes called one of Ross' people and they pegged his net worth at $3.7 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.

RELATED: What the richest 1 percent earns in every state

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What the Richest 1 Percent Earns in Every State
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What the Richest 1 Percent Earns in Every State

51. West Virginia: $488,643 per year

State by state, the average earnings of the 1 percent vary greatly. In West Virginia, for example, 1-percenters earned less than $489,000 a year, on average — a lot of money, to be sure, but that’s a fifth of the $2.4 million earned in 2013, on average, by the top 1 percent in the top-earning state.

The study found relatively less inequality in rural places and bigger income gaps in cities and suburban counties. Study co-author Mark Price says that’s probably because there’s a smaller concentration of high-income occupations — like corporate CEOs, top managers and financial services jobs — in predominantly rural states like West Virginia than in, say, New York state.

Still, inequality is up in rural areas and cities. That’s because, Price says, “an increasing amount of income is flowing to the top 1 percent of families in every part of the country.”

For West Virginia, the study found:

  • Entry-level earnings for top 1 percent: $244,879/year
  • Average earnings of bottom 99 percent: $34,407/year
  • Top 1 percent’s share of income in the state: 12.4 percent

Photo credit: Getty

50. Mississippi: $565,813 per year

Mississippi, like other predominantly rural states, has a relatively smaller gap between rich and poor — even though the average Mississippi 1-percenter earns more than a half-million dollars a year.

  • Entry-level earnings for top 1 percent: $264,952/year
  • Average earnings of bottom 99 percent: $33,383/year
  • Top 1 percent’s share of income in the state: 14.4 percent

Photo credit: Getty

49. New Mexico: $593,739 per year

  • Entry-level earnings for top 1 percent: $231,276/year.
  • Average earnings of bottom 99 percent: $37,995/year.
  • Top 1 percent’s share of income in the state: 13.4 percent.

Photo credit: Getty

48. Maine: $612,494 per year 

  • Entry-level earnings for top 1 percent: $282,474/year.
  • Average earnings of bottom 99 percent: $41,165/year.
  • Top 1 percent’s share of income in the state: 12.9 percent.

Photo credit: Getty

47. Kentucky: $619,585 per year

  • Entry-level earnings for top 1 percent: $267,635/year
  • Average earnings of bottom 99 percent: $37,371/year
  • Top 1 percent’s share of income in the state: 14.1 percent

Photo credit: Getty

46. Alabama: $665,097 per year

The rural-urban differences in wealth distribution are clear in Alabama’s relatively smaller inequality gap. Those among the wealthiest 1 percent in Alabama make $665,097 a year compared with the $38,854 earned, on average, by everyone else in the state. Although the wealthy in the South take home a great deal of money each year, the highest incomes here are dwarfed by the average earnings of the 1 percent in states with bigger urban centers.

  • Entry-level earnings for top 1 percent: $283,899/year
  • Average earnings of bottom 99 percent: $38,854/year
  • Top 1 percent’s share of income in the state: 14.5 percent

Photo credit: Getty

45. South Carolina: $668,739 per year 

  • Entry-level earnings for top 1 percent: $288,042/year
  • Average earnings of bottom 99 percent: $36,950/year
  • Top 1 percent’s share of income in the state: 15.2 percent

Photo credit: Getty 

44. Hawaii: $690,073 per year 

  • Entry-level earnings for top 1 percent: $281,620/year
  • Average earnings of bottom 99 percent: $51,033/year
  • Top 1 percent’s share of income in the state: 11.9 percent

Photo credit: Getty

43. Iowa: $714,758 

  • Entry-level earnings for top 1 percent: $317,234/year
  • Average earnings of bottom 99 percent: $51,248/year
  • Top 1 percent’s share of income in the state: 12.2 percent

Photo credit: Getty

42. Indiana: $717,688 per year 

  • Entry-level earnings for top 1 percent: $296,640/year
  • Average earnings of bottom 99 percent: $43,426/year
  • Top 1 percent’s share of income in the state: 14.1 percent

Photo credit: Getty

41. Montana: $730,864 per year 

The average Montanan in the bottom 99 percent makes $42,000 a year. But the average earnings among the state’s 1 percent are raised appreciably by the presence in Montana of Glacier National Park. Kalispell, the gateway to Glacier Park, ranks 43rd among Bloomberg’s richest small towns in America.

  • Entry-level earnings for top 1 percent: $297,689/year
  • Average earnings of bottom 99 percent: $42,013/year
  • Top 1 percent’s share of income in the state: 14.7 percent

Photo credit: Getty

40. Vermont: $735,697 per year 

  • Entry-level earnings for top 1 percent: $299,259/year
  • Average earnings of bottom 99 percent: $45,719/year
  • Top 1 percent’s share of income in the state: 13.8 percent

Photo credit: Getty

39. Idaho: $738,278 per year 

Idaho has large rural swathes, and Boise, although it is booming and home to ever more tech and other companies, is — sorry, Boise — no New York City with NYC salaries. But Idaho’s higher earners aren’t all in the biggest city. They’re also in Hailey, central to the wealth and glitter of the Sun Valley-Ketchum resort area.

  • Entry-level earnings for top 1 percent: $292,324/year
  • Average earnings of bottom 99 percent: $45,254/year
  • Top 1 percent’s share of income in the state: 14.0 percent

Photo credit: Getty

38. North Carolina: $745,868 per year 

  • Entry-level earnings for top 1 percent: $327,549/year
  • Average earnings of bottom 99 percent: $42,162/year
  • Top 1 percent’s share of income in the state: 14.9 percent

Photo credit: Getty

37. Arkansas: $750101 per year 

  • Entry-level earnings for top 1 percent: $237,428/year
  • Average earnings of bottom 99 percent: $36,421/year
  • Top 1 percent’s share of income in the state: 17 percent

Photo credit: Getty

36. Ohio: $752,582 per year 

  • Entry-level for top 1 percent: $317,124/year
  • Average earnings of bottom 99 percent: $42,391/year
  • Top 1 percent’s share of income in the state: 15 percent

Photo credit: Getty

35. Oregon: $754,431 per year 

  • Entry-level for top 1 percent: $312,839/year
  • Average earnings of bottom 99 percent: $40,719/year
  • Top 1 percent’s share of income in the state: 15.5 percent

Photo credit: Getty

34. Delaware: $768,109 per year

  • Entry-level for top 1 percent: $342,699/year
  • Average earnings of bottom 99 percent: $48,371/year
  • Top 1 percent’s share of income in the state: 13.6 percent

Photo credit: Getty

33. Arizona: $784,469 per year

  • Entry-level for top 1 percent: $309,102/year
  • Average earnings of bottom 99 percent: $38,354/year
  • Top 1 percent’s share of income in the state: 16.9 percent

Photo credit: Getty

32. Tennessee: $820,373 per year 

  • Entry-level for top 1 percent: $308,834/year
  • Average earnings of bottom 99 percent: $40,156/year
  • Top 1 percent’s share of income in the state: 16.9 percent

Photo credit: Getty

31. Alaska: $833,117 per year 

The wealth gap in Alaska is lower than in most states because, although the earnings of the average 1-percenter approach $1 million a year, the bottom 99 percent make more than in many other states.

  • Entry-level for top 1 percent: $365,332/year
  • Average earnings of bottom 99 percent: $63,226/year
  • Top 1 percent’s share of income in the state: 11.6 percent

Photo credit: Getty

30. Missouri: $833,823 per year 

  • Entry-level for top 1 percent: $305,471/year
  • Average earnings of bottom 99 percent: $41,641/year
  • Top 1 percent’s share of income in the state: 16.6 percent

Photo credit: Getty

29. Michigan: $834,008 per year 

  • Entry-level for top 1 percent: $306,740/year
  • Average earnings of bottom 99 percent: $37,896/year
  • Top 1 percent’s share of income in the state: 17.9 percent

Photo credit: Getty

28. Georgia: $857,728 per year 

  • Entry-level for top 1 percent: $345,876/year
  • Average earnings of bottom 99 percent: $40,095/year
  • Top 1 percent’s share of income in the state: 17.5 percent

Photo credit: Getty

27. Louisiana: $859,619 per year 

  • Entry-level for top 1 percent: $325,163/year
  • Average earnings of bottom 99 percent: $41,600/year
  • Top 1 percent’s share of income in the state: 17 percent

Photo credit: Getty

26. Nebraska: $872,892 per year 

  • Entry-level for top 1 percent: $346,252/year
  • Average earnings of bottom 99 percent: $57,076/year
  • Top 1 percent’s share of income in the state: 13.2 percent

Photo credit: Getty

25. Rhode Island: $884,609 per year

  • Entry-level for top 1 percent: $336,625/year
  • Average earnings of bottom 99 percent: $47,545/year
  • Top 1 percent’s share of income in the state: 15.6 percent

Photo credit: Getty

24. Wisconsin: $888,121 per year 

  • Entry-level for top 1 percent: $312,375/year
  • Average earnings of bottom 99 percent: $46,669/year
  • Top 1 percent’s share of income in the state: 15.9 percent

Photo credit: Getty

23. Pennsylvania: $926,051 per year

The earnings gap between the richest and everyone else starts widening in states like Pennsylvania, where the average income for the 99 percent isn’t that much different from elsewhere but the average earnings of the top 1 percent reach nearly $1 million per year.

  • Entry-level for top 1 percent: $360,343/year
  • Average earnings of bottom 99 percent: $45,781/year
  • Top 1 percent’s share of income in the state: 16.7 percent

Photo credit: Getty

22. Oklahoma: $930,201 per year 

  • Entry-level for top 1 percent: $324,935/year
  • Average earnings of bottom 99 percent: $44,849/year
  • Top 1 percent’s share of income in the state: 17.1 percent

Photo credit: Getty

21. Utah: $940,662 per year 

Utah has Salt Lake City, which brings up average incomes. But, at least equally important to the wealth gap, it also has resort communities like Summit Park, home of the Park City Mountain Resort, which Bloomberg News ranks first among the 20 richest small towns in America, and Heber, a wealthy nearby tourist area.

Utah is a growing magnet for corporate jobs, too. Bloomberg says, “Utah has companies like Adobe and Goldman Sachs settling in and creating job opportunities in cities within commuting distance of its mountain towns.”

  • Entry-level for top 1 percent: $333,775/year
  • Average earnings of bottom 99 percent: $50,367/year
  • Top 1 percent’s share of income in the state: 15.7 percent

Photo credit: Getty

20. Kansas: $981,279 per year 

  • Entry-level for top 1 percent: $351,497/year
  • Average earnings of bottom 99 percent: $50,367/year
  • Top 1 percent’s share of income in the state: 16.2 percent

Photo credit: Getty

19. Virginia: $987,607 per year 

  • Entry-level for top 1 percent: $406,412/year
  • Average earnings of bottom 99 percent: $55,743/year
  • Top 1 percent’s share of income in the state: 15 percent

Photo credit: Getty

18. New Hampshire: $1,011,141 per year 

  • Entry-level for top 1 percent: $359,844/year
  • Average earnings of bottom 99 percent: $56,475/year
  • Top 1 percent’s share of income in the state: 15.1 percent

Photo credit: Getty

17. Maryland: $1,024,110 per year

  • Entry-level for top 1 percent: $421,188/year
  • Average earnings of bottom 99 percent: $60,172/year
  • Top 1 percent’s share of income in the state: 14.5 percent

Photo credit: Getty

16. South Dakota: $1,025,091 per year 

  • Entry-level for top 1 percent: $386,622/year
  • Average earnings of bottom 99 percent: $53,213/year
  • Top 1 percent’s share of income in the state: 16.1 percent

Photo credit: Getty

15. Minnesota: $1,035,928 per year 

  • Entry-level for top 1 percent: $411,022/year
  • Average earnings of bottom 99 percent: $52,689/year
  • Top 1 percent’s share of income in the state: 16.3 percent

Photo credit: Getty

14. Washington: $1,100,186 per year 

Now we’re talking some real money. In booming high-tech Seattle, the average 1-percenter makes more than a million dollars a year. Inequality is higher, too, with the 1 percent taking home almost one-fifth of earnings in the state. The small town of Oak Harbor, Washington, ranks 18th in Bloomberg’s list of wealthiest small towns in America.

  • Entry-level for top 1 percent: $387,854/year
  • Average earnings of bottom 99 percent: $50,372/year
  • Top 1 percent’s share of income in the state: 17.8 percent

Photo credit: Getty

13. Colorado: $1,101,214 per year 

Helping raise the average income for Colorado’s 1-percenters are the resort towns of Vail and Beaver Creek, located near Edwards, which Bloomberg ranks the second-richest small town in America, in addition to four other “richest” small towns: Breckenridge (No. 5), Glenwood Springs (No. 7), Steamboat Springs (No. 9) and Durango (No. 16).

  • Entry-level for top 1 percent: $410,716/year
  • Average earnings of bottom 99 percent: $54,809/year
  • Top 1 percent’s share of income in the state: 16.6 percent

Photo credit: Getty

12. Illinois: $1,207,547 per year 

  • Entry-level for top 1 percent: $416,319/year
  • Average earnings of bottom 99 percent: $48,684/year
  • Top 1 percent’s share of income in the state: 19.8 percent

Photo credit: Getty

11. Florida: $1,265,774 per year 

  • Entry-level for top 1 percent: $385,410/year
  • Average earnings of bottom 99 percent: $36,530/year
  • Top 1 percent’s share of income in the state: 25.6 percent

Photo credit: Getty

10. North Dakota: $1,282, 551 per year 

  • Entry-level for top 1 percent: $481,492/year
  • Average earnings of bottom 99 percent: $61,178/year
  • Top 1 percent’s share of income in the state: 17.2 percent

Much of North Dakota’s riches stem from natural resources, including its oil boom in the northwestern part of the state as well as coal, shale gas and wind energy industries.

Photo credit: Getty

9. Texas: $1,301, 618 per year  

Texas has long been a symbol of American wealth. Farming, ranching and, of course, oil traditionally were the backbones of the state’s economy. More recently the state’s wealth has grown from petroleum-related industries, biotech and medical research, aerospace and defense contracting, and an influx of corporate headquarters. The average earnings of the bottom 99 percent are small compared with the $1,301,618, on average, that 1-percenters take home each year, leading to a big wealth gap.

  • Entry-level for top 1 percent: $424,507/year
  • Average earnings of bottom 99 percent: $48,350/year
  • Top 1 percent’s share of income in the state: 21.1 percent

Photo credit: Getty

8. Nevada: $1,386,448 per year 

  • Entry-level for top 1 percent: $311,977/year
  • Average earnings of bottom 99 percent: $36,169/year
  • Top 1 percent’s share of income in the state: 27.5 percent

Photo credit: Getty

7. California: $1,411,375 per year 

  • Entry-level for top 1 percent: $453,772/year
  • Average earnings of bottom 99 percent: $48,899/year
  • Top 1 percent’s share of income in the state: 22.3 percent

Photo credit: Getty

6. New Jersey: $1,453,741 per year 

  • Entry-level for top 1 percent: $547,737/year
  • Average earnings of bottom 99 percent: $57,447/year
  • Top 1 percent’s share of income in the state: 20.1 percent

Photo credit: Getty

5. District of Columbia: $1,531,432 per year 

  • Entry-level for top 1 percent: $554,719/year
  • Average earnings of bottom 99 percent: $63,100/year
  • Top 1 percent’s share of income in the state: 19.4 percent

Photo credit: Getty

4. Massachusetts: $1,692,079 per year 

  • Entry-level for top 1 percent: $539,055/year
  • Average earnings of bottom 99 percent: $56,115/year
  • Top 1 percent’s share of income in the state: 23 percent

Photo credit: Getty

3. New York: $2,006,632 per year 

  • Entry-level for top 1 percent: $517,557/year
  • Average earnings of bottom 99 percent: $44,163/year
  • Top 1 percent’s share of income in the state: 31 percent

The biggest gap between the richest 1 percent and everyone else is in New York, where someone in the top tier earns about 45 times more each year than the average New Yorker does.

Inequality is even greater in New York County, including Manhattan and the Financial District.

Photo credit: Getty

2. Wyoming: $2,118,167 per year 

  • Entry-level for top 1 percent: $368,468/year
  • Average earnings of bottom 99 percent: $52,196/year
  • Top 1 percent’s share of income in the state: 28.7 percent

The biggest wealth gap may be in New York, but the fattest annual earnings among the 1 percent are in — Wyoming. The state may be known for its cowpokes and stunning scenery, but the natural splendors and the potential for privacy and isolation lure a great deal of money to the state.

Jackson, the third-richest small town in Bloomberg’s ranking, lies on the southern border of Yellowstone National Park, spilling from Wyoming into Idaho. Grand Teton National Park and other tourist attractions are nearby, and the area is home to the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. But it is the extreme wealth of many of its citizens that gives Jackson the dubious distinction of being the most unequal city in the United States.

Photo credit: Getty

1. Connecticut: $2,402,339 per year 

The gaps between the top 1 percent and the bottom 99 percent are biggest of all in New York and Connecticut. In Connecticut, the wealthiest 1 percent earns 42.6 times what the rest of the state makes, on average. In the United States, the top 1 percent’s average income is 30 times more than the average income of the bottom 99 percent.

After Jackson, Wyoming, the most unequal metro area in the United States is Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk, Connecticut, an area known as “the Gold Coast” for its wealth, including health-fund fortunes.

  • Entry-level for top 1 percent: $659,979/year
  • Average earnings of bottom 99 percent: $56,445/year
  • Top 1 percent’s share of income in the state: 29.7 percent

Photo credit: Getty

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