Wilbur Ross, the billionaire "king of bankruptcy" whom Trump officials say is in line to head the U.S. Department of Commerce, was a big beneficiary of five bankrupt steel companies shedding retiree benefits for 190,000 former and current workers onto a federal government rescue fund more than a decade ago.

Ross bought the bankrupt steel companies, packaged them together under his International Steel Group Inc. and sold them to Europe-based Mittal Steel Co. NV for more than $4 billion in stock and cash.

While Ross and his investors made huge profits, steel company retirees faced lower pensions and the government rescue fund, the deficit-ridden Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp., wobbled under the weight of $6.4 billion in new unfunded liabilities.