Watchdog group says Carl Icahn should be investigated for insider trading

Icahn dumped millions in steel-related shares ahead of Trump's tariff announcement last week.

Chairman of Icahn Enterprises Carl Icahn participates in a panel discussion at the New York Times 2015 DealBook Conference at the Whitney Museum of American Art on November 3, 2015 in New York City.  CREDIT: Photo by Neilson Barnard/Getty Images for New York Times
Chairman of Icahn Enterprises Carl Icahn participates in a panel discussion at the New York Times 2015 DealBook Conference at the Whitney Museum of American Art on November 3, 2015 in New York City. CREDIT: Photo by Neilson Barnard/Getty Images for New York Times

The Project On Government Oversight (POGO) is asking the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to investigate former Trump adviser Carl Icahn for possible insider trading after Icahn dumped millions in steel-related stock ahead of President Trump’s tariffs announcement last week.

In a letter on Monday, POGO urged the SEC to investigate whether “government officials provided [Icahn] with non-public, market-moving information in advance of…Trump’s announcement that the government was imposing a 25 percent tariff on steel imports or the related Commerce Department report on tariffs.”

The stock dump was first reported by ThinkProgress last week.

In an SEC filing submitted February 22, 2018, Icahn disclosed that he had sold off nearly 1 million shares of Manitowoc Company Inc., a “leading global manufacturer of cranes and lifting solutions” heavily dependent on steel to make its products — the first Manitowoc shares Icahn had sold in three years. Trump announced the steel tariffs just one week later, and Manitowoc stock fell 6 percent shortly thereafter.

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“The SEC has investigated current and former government officials for improperly divulging confidential, market-moving information as well as private sector organizations for improperly handling such information given to them by government officials,” POGO’s letter read. “As you, then-Acting SEC Enforcement Division Director Stephanie Avakian, said last year, ‘There’s no place on Wall Street or in our government for such blatant misuse of highly confidential information.'”

Insider trading expert James D. Cox echoed POGO’s concerns in an interview with ThinkProgress earlier this week, calling the stock dump “awfully suspicious” and saying it “unquestionably” warrants federal investigation.

“Icahn would have material information even if Trump never had made up his mind he was going to impose the tariffs,” Cox said. “There are cases out there that say, you know, look, if your privileged access gives you information that makes you a better person to judge the likelihood of an uncertain event, then that’s inside trading.”

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The White House has not responded to repeated inquiries regarding Icahn’s stock sell-off, but an anonymous White House official did argue to NPR Friday that it could not be insider trading because Trump has repeatedly said both privately and publicly that he wants to impose tariffs.

Cox doesn’t buy that argument. “It’s been in the atmosphere, but if there was a conversation or a bit of information, that made the uncertainty less uncertain,” he said. “What’s important here, is did [Icahn] have privileged information that allowed him to better evaluate the likelihood that Trump would actually do something?”

Icahn served as a special adviser to Trump until last August. In an interview last week, Icahn said he hasn’t had “much” interaction with Trump since resigning from the role.