Report: 'Billionaire' Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has been lying, isn’t actually a billionaire

This week isn’t even halfway over, but it’s safe to say that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross is having the worst one in Washington, D.C.

In November 2016, President-elect Donald Trump’s decision to nominate Ross — a banker known for revamping failed companies — to his cabinet unleashed a firestorm of scrutiny from the media. Many saw the nomination as a potential sign that the new president-elect would waiver in his repeated campaign promise to “drain the swamp.”

Net worths of Trump's cabinet members:

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Net worths of Trump's Cabinet members
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Net worths of Trump's Cabinet members

Ryan Zinke, Secretary of the Interior: $800,000

Before serving in Congress, Zinke, who has an MBA, started Continental Divide International in 2005, a property management and business development consulting company. He later formed a consulting company, On Point Montana, in 2009.

REUTERS/Carlos Barria TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

Mike Pence, Vice President: $800,000

Pence became an attorney in a private practice after graduating from law school before serving in Congress and then becoming the Governor of Indiana.

(BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

Rick Perry, Secretary of Energy: $2 million 

Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry banks at least $100,000 from speeches and $250,000 from consulting Caterpillar. Additionally, the politician has about 20% of his portfolio invested in in oil-and gas partnerships and energy stocks, according to Forbes.

REUTERS/Carlos Barria

John Kelly, Secretary of Homeland Security: $4 million 

Kelly, who spent over four decades in the military, amassed the majority of his wealth from government pension. 

(Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

James Mattis, Secretary of Defense: $5 million

Like Kelly, the four-star general made most of his money from government pension. He also sits as a director of General Dynamics. 

REUTERS/Ed Jones/Pool

Jeff Sessions: $6 million (Attorney General)

Sessions owns more than 1,500 acres in Alabma that are worth at least $2.5 million. The rest of his fortune is in Vanguard mutual funds and municipal bonds, according to Forbes.

REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Tom Price, Secretary of Health and Human Services: $10 million

Price ran an orthopedic clinic in Atlanta for 20 years, then taught orthopedic surgery as an assistant porfessor at his alma mater, Emory.

REUTERS/Carlos Barria

Elaine Chao, Secretary of Transportation: $24 million

The daughter of a shipping magnate owes the buld of her and her husband Mitch McConnell’s wealth to her family. 

REUTERS/Carlos Barria

Ben Carson, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development: $29 million 

The neurosurgeon earned millions from books he penned, media roles and speaking gigs. He also served as a director at Kellogg and Costco, accumulating more than $6 million in stocks. 

REUTERS/Las Vegas Sun/Steve Marcus/File Photo

Andy Puzder, Secretary of Labor: $45 million 

The CEO of CKE Restaurants, which owns Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s, has earned at least $25 million in salary and bonuses since 2000.

(Photo by Al Seib/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Steven Mnuchin, Secretary of the Treasury: $300 million 

The former Goldman Sachs partner purchased subprime mortgage lender IndyMac for $1.6 billion in 2009 with a group of billionaire investors and sold it for $3.4 billion six years later.

(Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Rex Tillerson, Secretary of State: $325 million

The former ExxonMobil chairman and CEO accumulated more than 2.6 million shares of company stock in his tenure and hefty pay packages, according to Forbes.

(BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

Betsy DeVos, Secretary of Education: $1.25 billion

The daughter of a shipping magnate owes the bulk of her and her husband Mitch McConnell’s wealth to her family.

(Photo by Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Wilbur Ross, Secretary of Commerce: $2.5 billion 

Known as the "King of Bankruptcy," the former banker bought bankrupt companies and later selling them for a large profit.

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At the time, Mic noted that Ross’ net worth — then believed to be in the billions — was the equivalent of “literally 10 times as much as former President George W. Bush’s entire Cabinet.”

But on Tuesday morning, Forbes published an article claiming that Ross isn’t a billionaire at all.

The report is also something of a mea culpa for the magazine: It begins by noting that Forbes had played a role in Ross’ myth making, allowing him to list his net worth at $2.9 billion in 2016 on their ”Forbes 400” power ranking — despite the commerce secretary’s protestation that that number should be about $800 million higher.

But as Forbes’ Dan Alexander carried out his investigation into Ross’ finances, which included a deep dive into the disclosure forms Ross filed following his nomination to Trump’s cabinet, he found that Ross had “less than $700 million in assets.”

Though Ross attributed the $2 billion discrepancy to family trusts, he declined to provide documentation of those trusts to Forbes.

Alexander writes:

So began the mystery of Wilbur Ross’ missing $2 billion. And after one month of digging, ‘Forbes’ is confident it has found the answer: That money never existed. It seems clear that Ross lied to us, the latest in an apparent sequence of fibs, exaggerations, omissions, fabrications and whoppers that have been going on with ‘Forbes’ since 2004. In addition to just padding his ego, Ross’ machinations helped bolster his standing in a way that translated into business opportunities.

The Forbes story is the second chapter in Ross’ terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad week. On Sunday, the Paradise Papers — an investigation of a cache of millions of leaked documents carried out by a coalition of 381 journalists — showed that the commerce secretary had financial links to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s family, which he did not disclose following his nomination to Trump’s cabinet.

“[Ross has] lied to a lot of people, ”a former colleague of the commerce secretary told Forbes.

 

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