Joining John Kelly in the pantheon of Trump advisers who seemed surprisingly legit at first but are gradually revealing themselves to be full of baloney is Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, a financier who, per a new Forbes report, has been claiming to be worth $2 billion more than he actually is for the past 13 years.
You can/should read the whole story at Forbes’ site, but the gist is this: In 2004, while making its list of the 400 richest Americans, the magazine mistakenly credited Ross with personally possessing a $2 billion chunk of money that was actually money he was managing on investors’ behalves. Instead of correcting the error, he let them run with it—and followed up by feeding the magazine similarly inflated net worth estimates for the next decade-plus:
“I would say the total now is a bit more than $2 billion,” Ross wrote in a 2011 email, according to notes taken at the time. In 2013, a different Forbes reporter realized that prior estimates seemed to include not just Ross’ money but that of the investors in his funds. Ross strung us along, leading us to believe he would provide evidence of his assets, but never did. Just months later, he was insisting that he was even richer, and Forbes continued to largely fall for it. “2.75 [billion] is a bit low but probably close enough,” he wrote in an email around the start of 2014. In September, he was arguing for a valuation of $3.45 billion but begrudgingly accepted a smaller figure: “3.1 [billion] is low, but I understand why you wish to be conservative.”
When Ross became Trump’s secretary of commerce, though, he had to make a public disclosure of his assets, which naturally didn’t include the billions that weren’t actually his. Questioned on the disparity, he told Forbes he’d shifted that money into, uh ... trusts and whatnot:
Ross protested, citing trusts for his family that he said he did not have to disclose in federal filings. “You’re apparently not counting those, which are more than $2 billion,” he said. When asked for documentation, the 79-year-old demurred, citing “privacy issues.” Told that Forbes nonetheless planned to remove him from the list for the first time in 13 years, he responded: “As long as you explain that the reason is that assets were put into trust, I’m fine with that.” And when did he make the transfer that allowed him to not disclose over $2 billion? “Between the election and the nomination.”
This claim raised its own conflict-of-interest questions and was picked up by other outlets; Forbes now says, citing “interviews with ten former employees at Ross’ private equity firm, WL Ross & Co.,” that it’s confident that Ross never had the money to begin with.
Donald Trump associating with someone who has a history of making fraudulent financial claims? Well, I never! I never.