Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross: I don't have any investments in Russia and never have

Key Points
  • Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross tells CNBC he doesn't have any investments in Russia and never has.
  • Ross also defends the administration's aggressive approach on tariffs.
Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross defends his investments

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross told CNBC on Thursday he doesn't have any investments in Russia and never has.

Forbes reported this week that after becoming Commerce secretary, Ross held financial positions in companies that could be affected by U.S. trade decisions in which he is involved. Ross and the Commerce Department have denied any wrongdoing.

"What they are doing is innuendo," Ross said in an interview with CNBC's "Squawk Box." "The company that I was invested in happened to have a Russian shareholder. Another company happened to do business with some companies in Russia."

"They take little, tiny things and turn them into something they are not," he added. "To make an allegation that there is something inappropriate about a practice, that's a very commonplace practice and has been done in prior administrations as well, is simply silly."

The Forbes report said Ross last year owned stakes in companies co-owned by China's government, a shipping firm linked to Russians and also held more than $10 million in stock of his former employer, Invesco, despite earlier saying in sworn testimony that he had divested his financial holdings.

Ross told CNBC that he sold the holdings that were readily sellable. Those that weren't sellable were put into a family trust, he added, again stressing that the practice is typical of prior administrations.

"I don't have any investments in Russia. I never have," Ross said. "If Forbes wants to rewrite the way the government handles things, that's fine."

Ross also defended the administration's aggressive approach on tariffs, saying it will deter allegedly unfair trade practices that President Donald Trump pledged to end.

Ross was criticized on Wednesday by Senate Republicans and Democrats over what they called a confusing and damaging Trump administration process of imposing tariffs.

The Commerce Department under Ross recommended imposing heavy tariffs or quotas on foreign producers of steel and aluminum in February in the interest of national security. Ross said at the time that steel is important to U.S. national security and that current import flows are adversely affecting the steel industry.

—CNBC's Jacob Pramuk and Dan Mangan contributed to this report.