Drain the Swamp: How Billionaire Carl Icahn used the Trump admin to make millions
A story you may have missed in the New Yorker last week uncovered massive corruption in the Trump Administration. Here’s what happened.
(Originally appeared as a tweetstorm on Twitter)
Letting a billionaire drain the swamp
The story centers on an old friend of Donald Trump’s named Carl Icahn, a corporate raider who is one of the richest men in human history. Icahn is worth more than everyone in the Trump cabinet and family together. One of his assets is an oil refining company called CVR.
Refiners like CVR are required to blend ethanol into their products OR purchase credits called Renewable Identification Numbers (RINS). CVR chose to buy RINS rather than blend ethanol. At the time ICAHN purchased, the company, RINS were cheap. Then the price went up.
In 2016, Carl Icahn came out as a supporter for Trump’s presidential candidacy. He donated $200,000 to the Trump Victory Committee. Icahn promised Trump would reign in EPA regulations (RINS are administered by EPA). The Trump campaign put out a policy paper on RINS.
Shortly after Trump won, Carl Icahn announced that he had “agreed to serve as a special advisor to the president on… regulatory reform.” Icahn was given a special title with no salary which allowed him to avoid divestiture and conflict of interest ethics disclosures.
Refilling the swamp
“No salary…” but in the months after Icahn’s appointment, CVR’s stock price doubled, a benefit of half a billion dollars for Icahn. Meanwhile top-level appointees were interviewing for their jobs with Trump first, and *then* with Icahn. Including Scott Pruitt at EPA.
Icahn was still focused on the cost of RINS credits, which meant so much to the bottom line of CVR. Now he had power to change things. Many parties have a stake in ethanol regulation, including politicians and powerful lobbies, all of whom have protected the status quo.
But Icahn is a friend of Trump’s, and had the power of the White House. He made a backroom deal with a key lobby using Trump’s influence. Icahn let it be known that Trump would issue an executive order making the change he wanted in RINS rules at EPA.
When news of the executive order broke, “corn and gasoline prices went berserk.” Gas prices which obviously affect all of us. The White House denied there was any such executive order. Issuing an order this way would’ve violated the Administrative Procedure Act.
Asked about Icahn’s role in the affair, the White House’s ethics lawyer, Stefan Passantino, suggested Icahn had no official WH position …but per Obama Ethics czar
@NormEisen: “He gets a broad policy portfolio. He’s involved in personnel decisions, in policy discussions.”
Here the story twists. It turned out CVR had secretly been shorting RINS, selling them off in anticipation of their price falling. As
@maddow pointed out, this was unprecedented. It made no sense, because CVR had to have RINS to comply w/ law.
As one trader put it, “Either Icahn was extremely lucky or he knew something that other people didn’t.” Much like insider trading… Now “Icahn could be in legal jeopardy.” Bush Ethics lawyer
@RWPUSA says Icahn is “walking right into possible criminal charges.”
Re-enter Trump WH ethics lawyer Passantino. It turns out that one of his previous clients, per Ethics chief
@waltshaub… was Icahn. Faced with this fact, the White House said “Passantino had been ‘recused’ on any matters related to Carl Icahn.” The White House said “it wasn’t necessary” to vet Icahn’s role, and falsely said he had never had a formal WH appointment or title. Icahn contradicted this. Hours before @praddenkeefe‘s story was to post, Icahn tweeted he had “ceased to act” as Trump’s special advisor.
Trading on connections
Icahn turned friendship and influence with Donald Trump and his own government role directly to his own business advantage and profit. This didn’t happen in a vacuum. As
@praddenkeefe writes, “Conflicts of interest have been a defining trait of the Trump Administration.”
Trump refused to release his tax returns, divest from his businesses, or eliminate key conflicts of interest. He undermines transparency
Trump and his cronies, including one of the richest people on the planet, are profiting off of the public trust and taxpayer dollars.
Congress failing on oversight
It’s deeply wrong, but what’s worse is that we find out about it through year-long research by the
@NewYorker. Not through oversight. Congress MUST provide oversight of every President’s Administration if our democracy is to function, if we are to fight corruption.
This Congress is not doing its job. It is allowing norms to be violated, influence to be peddled, corruption to fester. It’s horrible. Congress has a sacred responsibility to the people who sent us here to provide oversight and enforce ethical rules. No one else can.
This matters more than party. Congress must provide oversight and prevent anything like this, like Carl Icahn, from happening again.
— Rep. Don Beyer (@RepDonBeyer) August 24, 2017
(Democratic Rep. Don Beyer represents Virginia’s 8th District in Congress. VA8 (NoVa: Arlington, Alexandria, Falls Church, Fairfax). (beyer.house.gov )