Politics

Trump ambassadors bought shares when the president downplayed the pandemic and the virus unfold

Several U.S. ambassadors actively reduced their stocks when President Donald Trump tried to downplay the coronavirus outbreak in its early stages.

Ambassadors in Uruguay, France, Morocco and Italy sold shares in transactions that could have earned them millions of dollars, according to CNBC-verified financial reports. Much of their sales were in January and continued throughout February, as the records show. Their transactions are in line with a timeline of announcements from federal and congressmen when the virus spread worldwide earlier this year.

Some of the ambassadors' stock deals related to companies involved in the research or development of products related to the treatment of patients infected with the coronavirus, such as: B. biopharmaceutical companies.

Trump began publicly playing down the severity of the pandemic earlier this year, including at the end of January during the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. At the event, he told CNBC that the administration "had it under control. It will be fine."

Coronavirus deaths in Italy and France are at or above 30,000. Morocco and Uruguay together have caused over 200 deaths. According to Johns Hopkins University, more than 10.7 million people worldwide are infected.

As the White House sought to respond to the spread of the virus, Ambassadors Lewis Eisenberg, Jamie McCourt, David Fischer and Kenneth George saw large profits from stock transactions, show their records.

A spokesman for the State Department said ambassadors were informed at the Global Chiefs of Mission Conference in late February about the potential impact of the corona virus on their operations, but have never attended other briefings this year. The spokesman also said that stock sales and purchases were often based on instructions from financial advisors.

"The U.S. ambassadors were briefed at the Global Chiefs of Mission conference on February 25-26, 2020 about the potential impact of the Covid pandemic on State Department operations," the spokesman said Thursday. "Otherwise, US ambassadors did not receive information about Covid from any of the government officials. These financial decisions were part of a variety of portfolio buying and selling, often based on advice from financial advisors."

Democrats are already popping up on Trump diplomats' actions, including the Democratic Super PAC American Bridge, which initially reported part of CNBC's share sales and purchases.

"Any official who dumped millions in stocks while the government downplayed the threat has nothing to do with public trust, and their actions require a thorough investigation to prevent further abuse of power," said Max Steele, a spokesman for the group an explanation.

Their sales came when many investors were beaten up on the stock exchange. The Dow Jones Industrial Average started to fill up in late February and bottomed out next month, the lowest point since Trump took office.

Many of these ambassadors were long-time GOP donors, including those who supported Trump's 2016 presidential campaign and his opening committee. Their businesses were discovered after Sens. Richard Burr and Kelly Loeffler were tested for the sale of their securities at the beginning of the pandemic. The FBI is examining Burr for these sales.

Another Trump administration member, former chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, also dumped portions of his equity portfolio while the president was trying to distance himself from the pandemic, The Daily Beast recently reported.

Fischer, who donated $ 275,000 to Trump's opening committee and is currently the United States' ambassador to Morocco, sold nearly $ 380,000 worth of shares to just over $ 2 million between January and February, according to his financial report. The Office of Government Ethics asks government officials to provide a range of values ​​of how much federal employees make from buying or selling assets.

One of Fischer's big sales, according to his file, came on February 5, the same day that Democratic Senator Chris Murphy said he had left a feeling of briefing as if White House officials "weren't serious." take enough ".

On that day, Fischer's filing shows that he has sold $ 2,000 to $ 30,000 in shares to at least two companies involved in developing coronavirus treatments, such as Biohaven Pharmaceuticals. The pharmaceutical company announced on its website in April that it plans to "investigate intranasal vazegepant, a third generation, high affinity, selective and structurally unique low molecular weight CGRP receptor antagonist for lung complications from COVID-19 disease".

Fischer also sold shares in BioTelemetry, a heart monitoring company that, according to its website, sponsors a coronavirus monitoring program. The shares of these two companies fell dramatically over the course of a month after Fischer sold his shares. For Biohaven, the stock price was just over $ 53 on February 5, and a month later it would fall at least 8%. The price of BioTelemetry was nearly $ 53 the same day, and the share price fell 20% a little more than a month later.

In January, Fischer bought and sold shares in Apple, Amazon and Alphabet. In March, he sold between $ 15,000 and $ 50,000 to Uber shares.

George, the US ambassador to Uruguay, went on a buy and sell tour in January and February. Of the notable transactions, George invested between $ 5,000 and $ 75,000 in RedHill Biopharma. In May, the company announced that it was approved by the Food and Drug Administration for a Covid-19 clinical trial.

In March, George also bought and sold shares in Inovio Pharmaceuticals, a biotechnology company that recently started clinical trials for a potential coronavirus vaccine.

McCourt, the US ambassador to France, sold her shares on January 17 in what is described in her financial disclosure as "A.J. Capital Graduate Hotel Fund III". It earned between $ 1 million and $ 5 million on this sale alone and up to $ 10 million on other share sales on the same day. At that time, the disease control and prevention centers and other U.S. government agencies announced that they would be performing health checks for those traveling from Wuhan, China, where the outbreak is believed to have started.

This fund appears to be an investment vehicle for a hotel and real estate portfolio managed by Adventurous Journeys Capital Partners, also known as AJ Capital Partners. On its website, the real estate company advertises a portfolio of hotels with the title "Graduate Hotels", which was founded in 2014.

Through partnerships with universities, the company started opening hotels at universities across the country. However, the pandemic forced many of the "Graduate Hotels" to close temporarily and, according to their website, has just started reopening. Six of the 28 hotels listed were reopened in June, while another eleven are due to open on the website in July.

The hotel industry had faltered in the first quarter of 2020 after the pandemic. FactSet data shows that many of the top hotel operators from Marriott to Hilton saw a decrease in financial performance of up to 64% in the first quarter.

During the 2016 elections, McCourt gave the Trump Victory Committee, a joint fund-raising committee between Trump's campaign and the Republican National Committee, nearly $ 450,000. Since its confirmation in 2017, it has issued a six-digit check to the same fundraiser.

Eisenberg, the U.S. ambassador to Italy, issued a wave of Covid 19 cases with a share sale between 200,000 and 500,000 almost a week before the U.S. State Department issued a travel alert to people considering traveling to that country US dollars from.

Eisenberg's submission partially describes the source of the funds as follows: "AMLP – ALPS ETF TR ALERIAN MLP UNSOLICITED." It appears to be an exchange-traded fund that often holds groups of stocks, commodities, or bonds and automatically trades on schedules. He gave the RNC $ 35,000 in 2015 before Trump was officially the Republican candidate.

It is unclear which stocks are included in this fund.

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