Top White House economic advisers briefed a group of majority Republican donors in February about the genuine threat of COVID-19 and its perceived impact on the economy, while President Donald Trump was firing off tweets that suggested the opposite — that the coronavirus pandemic was “very much under control,” in the United States and that the stock market was “starting to look very good to me!”
According to a document describing the private sessions obtained by the New York Times, White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow, the director of the National Economic Council, told Republican donors in a private board meeting with the Hoover Institute that the virus was “contained in the U.S., to date, but now we just don’t know.” The stark assessment came hours after Kudlow painted a much rosier picture during a CNBC interview, saying that the coronavirus was contained in the United States, adding: “it’s pretty close to airtight.”
The document was authored by hedge fund consultant William Callanan who attended the private briefing of Hoover’s board long before the public was informed of impending economic storms amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Per the Times, Callanan’s apparent overarching message in the memo pointed at a potentially crippling virus outbreak in the United States, and suggested that government officials were more aware of the threat than they stated publicly. It provided members of the investment world the advantage of a more honest look at what turned out to be a bleak financial future amid a ravaged COVID-19 economy.
According to the Times, the document reveals how Trump aides appeared to be giving wealthy Republican donors an advanced warning about the anticipated economic damage of COVID-19 at a time when Trump was telling Americans in public that coronavirus was nonthreatening.
The Times conducted interviews with eight sources who received copies of Callanan’s memo and several investors confirmed that the document provided elite traders access to information from the administration that helped them secure a financial edge just before global markets plunged.
“Short everything,” one investor told the Times, using the Wall Street term for betting stock prices soon dropping. At least two investors told the Times that the information helped boost profits and that advanced knowledge of the pandemic’s effects encouraged them to stock up on what became scarce household essentials.
When later asked about what Callanan described as his conflicting messages on the reality of the pandemic, Kudlow told the Times that he did not see conflict in the messages he provided publicly on CNBC and in the Hoover board meeting, even suggesting they were essentially the same. “There was never any intent on my part to misinform,” he said.