November 09, 2018

Warren, Blumenthal, Markey, Booker Request Information About Secretary Ross's Meetings With Companies In Which He Held Financial Interests

Secretary Ross's 2017 meetings with Chevron, Boeing, and Greenbrier CEOs may have violated federal conflict of interest law

Boston, MA - United States Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Edward Markey (D-Mass.), and Cory Booker (D-N.J.), sent a letter to the Department of Commerce Designated Agency Ethics Official (DAEO) requesting information regarding Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross's meetings with Chevron, Boeing, and Greenbrier officials while holding at least hundreds of thousands of dollars of financial interests in all three companies. 
"Secretary Ross's decisions to meet with senior Chevron, Boeing, and Greenbrier officials while maintaining his investments in those companies raises questions about his compliance with federal conflict of interest criminal statutes," the senators wrote.
The federal conflict of interest law, 18 U.S.C.§ 208, states that executive branch officers and officials -- including Cabinet secretaries -- may not participate "personally and substantially" through "decision, approval, disapproval, recommendation, the rendering of advice, investigation, or otherwise" in any "particular matter" in which they, a family member, or a business partner has a financial interest.  Federal officials who engage in conduct that constitutes a violation of federal conflict of interest law may be subject to civil or criminal penalties.  
As recently as mid-2017, Secretary Ross held financial interests in Chevron, Boeing, and Greenbrier, and met in his official capacity with the CEOs of all three companies:
  • Secretary Ross met with John Watson, the then-CEO of Chevron, on March 22, 2017, to discuss "Chevron's perspectives on global oil and gas developments and to discuss tax reform and trade."  
  • On March 30, 2017, Secretary Ross met with Dennis Muilenburg, the CEO of Boeing, and although the Secretary's calendar does not provide details on the content of the meeting, a Boeing representative later stated that the meeting involved discussions of "policy matters impacting our business." 
  • Secretary Ross had a meeting scheduled on or about May 16, 2017, with the Executive Board of the Rail Security Alliance -- a group that, based on initial correspondence regarding the meeting, included William Furman, the President and CEO of Greenbrier. Two days later, Secretary Ross had lunch with William Furman at the White House.
These meetings raise questions about Secretary Ross's compliance with criminal federal conflict of interest statutes, including 18 U.S.C.§ 208. The senators' letter to the Commerce DAEO requests information and documents related to Secretary Ross's meetings to help them better understand Secretary Ross's adherence to federal conflict of interest law.
This letter to the DAEO comes in the wake of Senator Warren's recent introduction of a sweeping anti-corruption bill that would strengthen federal ethics and conflicts of interest laws, and prohibit cabinet secretaries from owning or trading company stocks.