11.07.2017 0

New red scare on Russia reaches new low with Wilbur Ross fake news on natural gas shipping company

By Robert Romano

OMG! Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross held stake in a company that ships natural gas, and actually found natural gas producers who wanted to ship it. One of them was Russia.

Stop the presses!

Actually, in this case, they probably should have stopped the presses.

The breathless reporting by NBC News and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross failed to disclose to Congress his financial stake in Navigator Holdings Ltd., a British company that ships natural gas and liquid petrochemicals, which did business with Russia — is utterly false and completely indefensible. Nothing was hidden from Congress.

So says Ross, in an exclusive interview with CNBC, saying, “That’s totally wrong. It was disclosed on the form 278 which is the financial disclosure form, in my case, three times,” Ross said.

The form with his interest in Navigator, listed openly on the Office of Government Ethics website, was filed by Ross on Dec. 19, 2016, before Ross was ever confirmed by the U.S. Senate in Feb. 2017.

That’s bad enough. But the allegation that a company that ships natural gas around the world, including from Russia — the number two producer of natural gas in the entire world second only to the U.S. — is somehow suspicious is laughable.

Just read the headlines.  “Offshore Trove Exposes Trump-Russia links and Piggy Banks of the Wealthiest 1 Percent.” “Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross benefits from business ties to Putin’s inner circle.”

This new red scare has reached a new low. This would make Sen. Joe McCarthy blush.

Navigator’s fleet includes 38 seafaring vessels that ship natural gas everywhere.

As for Russia, according to Navigator’s website, “Russia’s largest gas processing and petrochemicals company saw an opportunity to meet European demand for LPG from increased local production. A new terminal was constructed near St Petersburg, but Sibur still faced the challenge of sustaining exports during freezing winters. At the time, no adequately-sized ice class gas carriers existed. In partnership with Sibur, we explored the various vessel capabilities that would suit its intended trade routes. We then constructed four handysize vessels with ice class capability sufficient for operating in the harsh climate of the Baltic Sea.”

Does that sound incredibly suspicious? Like some espionage plot? No, it’s a business strategy to work with natural gas exporters by a company that specializes in shipping natural gas. Nothing more. It’s about as unusual as a paper boy delivering newspapers.

This company is five-by-five. A true innovator.

But the purveyors of this bit of fake news have no problems with simply playing on unfounded Russia hysteria and fears that have engulfed the U.S. press corps. This story is utterly irresponsible that fails in the most basic of fact checks or even of putting the facts it did have into any meaningful context.

To repeat, Ross did disclose his stake in Navigator prior to Senate consideration. And a natural gas shipping company doing business with a natural gas producer is not suspicious.

Are oil tankers suspicious, too? Russia exports a lot of oil, you know. Perhaps some Trump officials had ties to major oil companies.

Next thing you know, NBC News will publish secret documents that prove that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson once ran Exxon — a company that did business with Russia! Oh wait…

If this is what the state of the Russia debate in the U.S. has degenerated to, where now any business dealings are considered espionage, our discourse has become utterly poisoned by this Russia witch hunt.

What’s worse, to the extent that such innuendo apparently now leads to federal investigations and who knows what else, as in the case of former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, we are in a truly dark place as nation.

To NBC and the Consortium, somehow, this rather benign business dealing proves the Trump-Russia nexus that everyone’s been looking for. It’s a despicable smear. Insanity, pure and utter bat guano. Just stop.

Robert Romano is Vice President of Public Policy at Americans for Limited Government.

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