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Icahn Quits White House Role After Conflict-of-Interest Questions

Billionaire investor Carl Icahn has ended his role as a special regulatory adviser to President Donald Trump after questions were raised about potential conflicts of interests with his business dealings.

In a letter to Trump posted Friday on Icahn’s website, he denied profiting from his advice-giving role — a possibility raised by Democratic critics who have asked officials to investigate his work.

Photographer: Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg

“Contrary to the insinuations of a handful of your Democratic critics, I never had access to nonpublic information or profited from my position, nor do I believe that my role presented conflicts of interest,” Icahn wrote Trump. “Indeed, out of an abundance of caution, the only issues I ever discussed with you were broad matters of policy affecting the refining industry.”

Icahn’s departure capped a tumultuous week for the White House following controversial comments by Trump that seemed to lend legitimacy to white supremacists and sparked a wave of CEO departures from presidential advisory panels. Three of the groups were disbanded this week.

Icahn, the majority owner of CVR Energy Inc., an independent oil refiner, drew criticism for pushing a change in U.S. biofuel policy that would benefit the company. Separate questions were raised last month regarding his role in regulatory decisions affecting American International Group Inc., an insurer in which he he holds a significant stake.

Net Worth

Icahn is worth about $18 billion, making him the 23rd richest person in the U.S., according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. He primarily invests his own fortune rather than relying on money from outsiders, has investments across industries including health care, energy, metals, auto parts, casinos, telecommunications, real estate and rail cars.

Icahn said he was ending his arrangement with Trump’s blessing, “because I did not want partisan bickering about my role to in any way cloud your administration.”

Democratic Senators Elizabeth Warren and Sheldon Whitehouse sent a letter last month to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin asking whether there were correspondences between the billionaire and officials about AIG. The activist investor earlier had pushed for a break up of the insurer in order to help it escape its regulatory tag as “too-big-to-fail,” but eased his demands this year. 

“We write to seek assurances that Mr. Icahn has not provided input on or received information,” on a pending decision regarding AIG’s status as a systemically important financial institution, the senators wrote in the July letter. Icahn is one of the top five shareholders of AIG.

Biofuel Compliance

Prices for biofuel compliance credits known as renewable identification numbers have been volatile since Trump’s election and Icahn’s appointment as special adviser.

Six Democratic senators had asked the White House and Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt to detail their interactions with Icahn on the issue. They argued that Icahn’s appointment ran afoul of ethics standards and presented a serious “conflict of interest” because Icahn had not made any obvious effort to separate his business holdings from his broad mandate to address regulations in his advisory role.

The value of Icahn’s stake in the Texas refiner increased some $491 million between Nov. 8 and Aug. 2 to about $1.4 billion, a period that starts with Trump’s election and the day before reports surfaced that the Trump administration was set to reject the bid to relieve refiners of the biofuels burden.

Icahn endorsed Trump for president in September 2015 and was frequently mentioned as a potential Treasury secretary, a role he repeatedly said he had no interest in.

Icahn Left Trump Victory Party to Bet $1 Billion on Stocks

Prior to being named a special adviser in December, he had backed many of Trump’s campaign ideas. He supported tax deals to encourage corporations to bring back overseas profits and stay based in the U.S., and backed calls to end the carried interest tax discount for hedge fund and private equity managers.

Icahn, 81, attended President Trump’s post-election victory party but left in the early hours of the morning to bet about $1 billion on U.S. equities, he told Bloomberg at the time.

He re-branded as an activist investor and outspoken shareholder advocate after gaining fame as a corporate raider in the 1980s. In recent years, Icahn has taken stakes in companies including Apple Inc., Hertz Global Holdings Inc., Xerox Corp. and eBay Inc., agitating for shareholder-enriching changes.

A message left for Icahn’s spokeswoman wasn’t immediately returned.

Icahn, in his letter to Trump, repeatedly diminished his influence over biofuel policy, describing himself as having shared only “limited insights” with Trump. “I sincerely regret that because of your extremely busy schedule, as well as my own, I have not had the opportunity to spend nearly as much time as I’d hoped on regulatory issues,” Icahn wrote.

— With assistance by Beth Jinks


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