Sec. Ross on Russia-Gate/Paradise Papers Charges, "Totally Wrong;" Media, Dem. Senators Squawk While Ross Goes to China

November 7, 2017

Sec. of Commerce Wilbur Ross, speaking Sunday on the eve of his departure to China to lead the U.S. business delegation, denounced the new Russia-gate charges against him from the Paradise Papers operation, as "totally wrong." Meantime, major U.S. media are keeping up the attacks, abetted by British "experts." A string of Democratic senators have begun a new drum beat on Russia-gate/Trump-gate, by demanding that Ross come clean on his supposed hidden, 'non-reported' Russian connections—the specific charges attributed to a reading of the Paradise Papers. E.g., Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said Ross has "misled" him, and concealed information. Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) tweeted, "I'd like to see Wilbur Ross testify about ties to Putin-connected company."

Ross, before leaving for Asia, spoke Sunday to CNBC, denouncing the charge of 'non-reporting.'  He said that his Cayman Islands holdings investments were reported to Congress on "Form 278" during confirmation. Ross said, "There is nothing wrong with anything that was done. A company not under sanction [referring to the Russian SIBUR petrochemicals firm] is just like any other company, period. It was a normal commercial relationship [between SIBUR and Navigator Holdings shipping company] and one that I had nothing to do with the creation of [he has indirect investments in Navigator], and do not know the shareholders who were apparently sanctioned at some later point in time [two years later]." They are SIBUR shareholders Gennady Timchenko, a Russian billionaire who is considered part of Putin's inner circle and is under personal Treasury sanctions; and Leonid Mikhelson, whose other company, Novatek, has been under Treasury sanctions since 2014. Kirill Shamalov, husband of Vladimir Putin's daughter Katerina Tikhonova, is a SIBUR shareholder.

The Commerce Department said Ross's disclosure of his indirect investment in Navigator is also posted on the Office of Government Ethics website.

Various U.S. media today joined the frenzy of coverage in Europe over the weekend, to focus on Ross and "Russia" taint, in the hours before the Trump-China visit. NPR this morning hosted an "expert" guest, Jon Swaine of the London Guardian, on Ross and Russia. The Washington Post story today is headlined, "Leaked Files Link U.S. Commerce Secretary to Putin Allies." It leads big, with a daring misstatement: "[the] Paradise Papers created more Russia-related problems for the Trump Administration Sunday, showing that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross holds business investments in companies tied to Russian President Vladimir Putin's inner circle."

The ICIJ (International Committee of Investigative Journalists) certainly did not claim that the files showed that, but rather that they show a twice-removed, through two other companies, "relationship," also displaced in time (refer to the Nov. 6 briefing). Reporter Carol Loennig, known as a "hit-woman" for the Post, also adds the claim of non-reporting to Congress by Ross.

Also of note in this media warfare against the prospect of Trump and friendship with China, is the Washington Post op-ed today, titled, "Watch Trump Turn Against China." Writer Josh Rogen asserts the Trump Administration is said to be filling up with anti-China Republicans who will impose a "traditional" anti-China policy.

In fact, Wilbur Ross has been keeping trade fights with China out as Commerce Secretary; he has promoted the U.S.-China dialogues on trade, and has even spoken positively of the Belt and Road Initiative. Leave aside his long-ago musings on Glass-Steagall, which are no longer here nor there. So, although he's being attacked with "Russia," the issue is China.