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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Reprinted with permission from DCReport.

Wilbur Ross, Donald Trump’s Commerce secretary, is required by federal law to report to the attorney general that he has engaged in illegal conduct that could get him five years in prison.

Don’t hold your breath waiting for Ross to comply or for prosecutors to act. In this administration, the de facto ethics policy is, “We do as we please, the law and common decency be damned.”

Ross falsely reported not once, but twice that he had sold his shares of Bank United stock in May 2017. He identified the shares as sold in his September 2017 report (see Page 2). Then he filed his annual financial disclosure report in August 2018. His original 2017 reports are here and here.

In this administration, the de facto ethics policy is, ‘We do as we please, the law and common decency be damned.’

The second false report came after Ross was warned in writing by the Office of Government Ethics about being accurate. The forms in question are signed under penalty of perjury.

Ross’s 72-page disclosure form was rejected by the head of the Office of Government Ethics, Emory Rounds, on Feb. 15.

The Center for Public Integrity revealed in December that Ross falsely claimed he had sold the stock. He got tripped up on his two-time lie when he reported a United Bank dividend.

Lying on disclosure forms is a sort of Trump White House specialty.

Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and government-paid adviser on almost everything, and his wife Ivanka have repeatedly had to amend their ethics reportsIvanka Trump was fined once, her husband twice, for false filings.

Trump repeatedly told voters that he was worth more than $10 billion. But once he became president, Trump filed a statement showing his net worth was only about 10% of the claimed amount. He filed after his lawyers asked if Trump could submit his ethics report without signing it.

Even that report overstated his net worth significantly. He listed exceptionally generous valuations for his properties, which other records, including some of his own filings with local governments, indicate were worth far less.

Ross, whom I first interviewed three decades ago, has often publicly claimed he was worth billions from his years as a “vulture capitalist.” His specialty was squeezing money out of bankrupt firms, often to the detriment of workers and vendors.

His now-rejected financial statements suggest his net worth is in the hundreds of millions, not billions.

For Ross, what is brazen is that he was on notice about the need to be accurate and truthful. He was explicitly warned, according to the Office of Government Ethics letter explaining the reasons it will not certify Ross’ 2018 financial disclosure filing.

“OGE is declining to certify Secretary Ross’ 2018 financial-disclosure report because that report was not accurate, and he was not in compliance with his ethics agreement at the time of the report,” the OGE wrote.

Ross, in the blasé manner of numerous Trump appointees, issued a statement. He lamely asserted that he is just doing what Commerce Department ethics advisers tell him. We look forward to seeing an email or letter from any such adviser telling him to make a false report.

Two years ago, we reported on how Ross had been vice chairman of the Bank of Cyprus, a favorite for Russian money laundering. A link to the full report by our investigative economics editor, Jim Henry, is in the short version of the story we ran back then.

The other Bank of Cyprus vice chair was an appointee of Vladimir Putin. The bank’s chief executive was the disgraced former head of Deutsche Bank, the only bank known to have loaned money directly to Trump in the last decade.

Deutsche, which has paid more than $600 million in fines for laundering Russian money and an eye-popping $22 billion in fines for other improprieties. Why would Ross hire an executive with that kind of track record, especially in helping Russians launder money?

The amount of stock Ross lied about is piddling, assuming Ross wasn’t also lying about the value of his shares. He put them down as less than $15,000.

The ethics disclosure rules Congress has enacted, going back many decades, make no room for reporting you sold something that you still own.

Ross has only one legal option to avoid informing William Barr, the newly named attorney general. Congress says that Ross “shall” report his illegal conduct:

…each Secretary concerned… shall refer to the Attorney General the name of any individual which such official or committee has reasonable cause to believe has willfully failed to file a report or has willfully falsified or willfully failed to file information required to be reported.

The only out for Ross, would be that he believes his action even after being warned was not willful. How could it be anything but? Well, to be generous, it could be just callous disregard for the laws that Ross swore to uphold.

“Individuals who fail to file a report, file a false report, or fail to report required information risk serious consequences,” the Ethics office advises all affected officials.

The attorney general can prosecute any official who “knowingly and willfully falsifies information required to be reported or… knowingly and willfully fails to file or report.”

Again, don’t hold your breath.

IMAGE: Wilbur Ross testifies before a Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee confirmation hearing on his nomination to be commerce secretary on Capitol Hill, January 18, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

Poll: Most Parents Oppose Rapid School Reopening

Numerous local school systems around the country are plowing ahead with plans to resume in-person instruction despite growing evidence that children are just as capable of spreading the coronavirus as adults.

Classes were set to begin on Monday in Baker County, Florida. Masks for students will be optional, not required. "It looks like it's back to normal this morning, honestly," a local television reporter observed as parents dropped their kids off in the morning. Many students wore no face coverings.

The Trump administration and the GOP have pushed for full reopening of schools for months."Schools in our country should be opened ASAP," Donald Trump tweeted in May. "Much very good information now available."

"SCHOOLS MUST OPEN IN THE FALL!!!" he reiterated on July 6.

"The science and data is clear: children can be safe in schools this fall, and they must be in school this fall," demanded Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ) on Aug. 1.

"I believe our schools can, and should rise to the occasion of re-opening for in-person education this fall," agreed Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) two days later.

"The CDC and Academy of Pediatrics agree: We can safely get students back in classrooms," tweeted House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) last Tuesday.

But while Scalise, Mike Pence, and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos have all cited the American Academy of Pediatrics in their arguments for reopening, a new study by the group and the Children's Hospital Association raises red flags about how safe that will be.

Their report found 338,982 reported coronavirus cases in children as of July 30 in the United States. Between July 16 and July 30, the nation saw a 40% increase — 97,078 new infected children.

Last week, a high school student in an Atlanta suburb posted a photo online showing few students wearing masks in a crowded school hallway. Since that time, at least six students and three adult employees in the school have reportedly contracted the coronavirus, and the school temporarily has switched to online classes.

Another Georgia school district has already seen at least 13 students and staff members test positive since reopening a week ago.

A recent study in South Korea found that children aged ten and older spread the coronavirus at the same rates adults do. A separate study in Chicago suggested young kids might also be effective spreaders.

These contradict the false claims made by Trump and his administration that kids have an "amazing" near immunity to COVID-19.

"If you look at children, children are almost — and I would almost say definitely, but almost immune from this disease, so few. They've got stronger, hard to believe, and I don't know how you feel about it, but they have much stronger immune systems than we do somehow for this," Trump told Fox News on Wednesday.

"You got to open the schools. They have a stronger immune system even than you have or I have," he told Barstool Sports on July 23. "It's amazing. You look at the percentage, it's a tiny percentage of one percent. And in that one case, I mean, I looked at a couple of cases. If you have diabetes, if you have, you know, problems with something, but the kids are in great shape." Children have made up nearly nine percent of all cases, even with schools mostly closed.

And DeVos incorrectly said in a July 16 interview, "More and more studies show that kids are actually stoppers of the disease and they don't get it and transmit it themselves."

In early July, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued guidelines for how schools could operate more safely during the pandemic.

Trump publicly ridiculed the guidelines, dismissing them as "very tough & expensive" and "very impractical."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.