Democrats on the House Oversight and Reform Committee will allow Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to answer questions in writing about his inaccurate financial report rather than face public questioning on the matter at an upcoming hearing.
Democrats agreed to the billionaire’s request about his 2018 financial disclosure form that a U.S. government watchdog said violated his ethics agreement, according to correspondence between the two parties obtained by The Washington Post.
The Office of Government Ethics ruled in mid-February that Ross had inaccurately reported stock holdings on his 2018 financial disclosure form, claiming he had sold them when he had not.
Democrats on the panel asked Ross, one of Trump’s wealthiest Cabinet officials, for more information about those inaccuracies in a February letter. But Ross responded that he was not ready to answer questions on the matter. Democrats may try anyway, but they’ll allow him to submit responses for the record.
“If you believe you are not prepared to answer questions related to your own financial disclosures, the committee will allow you to provide responsive information for the record, and I will make a statement to this effect at the hearing,” Cummings wrote to Ross in a March 6 letter.
Oversight Democrats, according to the letters, were also interested in asking Ross about a push by top Trump administration officials to sell nuclear power plants to Saudi Arabia over the objections of national security officials. Ross asked not to speak of that topic either.
Ross also tried in recent days to postpone the Oversight hearing to April 9, according to the correspondence. But Oversight investigators responded that the hearing had been scheduled for months and that Ross had plenty of time.
“The committee invited you to testify on January 8, 2019 — more than nine weeks ago — and you have had more than enough time to prepare,” Cummings wrote to Ross, listing six different dates and separate conversations where Democrats say Ross’s staff confirmed his appearance.
The Commerce Department and a spokesman for the Oversight Committee declined to comment.
House Democrats are expected to question Ross on Thursday about the Trump administration’s decision to add a citizenship question on the 2020 census.
Multiple cities and states have sued the administration, declaring the addition of the citizenship question unconstitutional. The Supreme Court decided last month to take up the issue. A lower federal court in California ruled against the citizenship question days ago.
House Democrats worry the move is aimed at intimidating immigrants and will have a chilling effect on reporting, giving the census an inaccurate picture of population. Depressed response rates would likely affect Democratic-leaning areas and could mean fewer seats for the party in the House.
Additionally, Democrats want to question Ross about why he originally blamed the Justice Department for the new census question. Court records, they say, suggest Ross personally coordinated on the matter with ex-Trump official Stephen K. Bannon, an immigration hard-liner.