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Blumenthal Grills Secretary of Commerce Nominee on Trump's Conflicts of Interest

Blumenthal to nominee who divested fortune to comply with ethics requirements: “You were able to do it – why not the President?” 

[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – In an exchange with Wilbur Ross today during the Senate Commerce Committee’s hearing to consider his nomination to be Secretary of Commerce, U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) pressed the nominee on his response to President-elect Trump’s unprecedented conflicts of interest.

Blumenthal outlined the extensive effort Ross has undergone in order to reach an agreement with the Office of Government Ethics, noting that Ross has divested more than ninety percent of his holdings and resigned from fifty positions to comply with ethics requirements. Blumenthal followed this exchange by asking, “I want to ask you very directly: shouldn’t the President of the United States do the same?” After Ross declined to answer his question, Blumenthal pressed, “But simply as a matter of appearance and morality, for that matter, you were able to do it – why not the President?”

Blumenthal also questioned Ross on the Department of Commerce’s oversight of the Trademark and Patent Office, which is currently considering eight pending applications for new trademarks by the Trump Organization. As the Secretary of Commerce, Ross would appoint the judges who determine the outcome of these cases to the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board. As reported by the Washington Post, Trump’s campaign and business currently hold more than 100 trademark registrations, many of which will need to be renewed in the coming years.

“I would respectfully suggest that that conflict of interest is inevitable so long as the President of the United States refuses to divest himself. Creating the trust that he has done is no substitute for complete divestiture,” Blumenthal said. “I realize you can’t order him to do so, but you will be in effect put in a very difficult if not impossible position as the Secretary of Commerce who appointing authority, and ultimately approving authority, over the Patent and Trademark Office.”

Video of Blumenthal’s exchange with Ross is available for download here.

In his second round of questions, Blumenthal asked Ross to prioritize the enforcement of penalties against companies that advance other countries’ efforts to boycott Israel. The Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security is tasked with prohibiting businesses with a U.S.-presence from boycotting countries like Israel based on foreign laws or a request of a foreign government.  Blumenthal also raised concerns regarding the Trump Administration’s commitment to protecting the U.S. from foreign cybersecurity attacks, and legislation and technological advancements that could help reduce gun violence.