Forbes is reporting that new documents show that Ross met with Chevron executive John Watson in March 2017, when his wife owned a stake in Chevron, to discuss matters directly related to the oil company’s interests, including “oil and gas developments, tax reform and trade issues.” The fact of the meeting has been known since a previous Forbes report in July 2017, but further investigation by the watchdog group American Oversight has uncovered the agenda of the meeting describing what was discussed. On the face of it, this seems like a conflict of interest, of the sort clearly forbidden by federal law.
Richard Painter, former chief ethics lawyer during the George W. Bush administration, told Forbes the meeting “certainly looks terrible” and is “enough to trigger an investigation.” When the meeting was first revealed, a spokesperson for the commerce secretary said that Ross had “not taken any action with a direct and predictable effect” on his wife’s holdings. The new reporting makes this claim even more implausible. In any case, Ross should have recused himself even if the meeting only raised the possibility of having an impact on Chevron.
Whether the matter gets investigated depends on the Democrats winning at least one house of Congress in the midterms. “If Democrats win the House, Ross will be at the top of their list of investigative targets,” Axios notes. “Former HHS Secretary Tom Price and former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt departed the administration after facing months of questions over similar legal and financial issues—and that was without Democrats being in charge of Congressional committees that can launch investigations.”