A memo based on information from senior White House officials in early 2020 conveyed to investors that the coronavirus pandemic was likely to be far more dire than President TrumpDonald John TrumpLabor secretary’s wife tests positive for COVID-19 Russia shuts down Trump admin’s last-minute push to strike nuclear arms deal before election Trump makes appeal to suburban women at rally: ‘Will you please like me?’ MORE’s public predictions, leading to stock selloffs, The New York Times reported.
On Feb. 24, the same day the president tweeted the virus was “very much under control,” White House economic staff met with board members of the conservative Hoover Institution, many of them GOP donors, and told them the White House could not yet predict the virus’ effect on the economy, the Times reported.
The following day, White House economic adviser Larry KudlowLarry KudlowMORE also briefed board members, telling them the virus was “contained in the U.S. to date but now we just don’t know.” The same day, he had said on CNBC that the government’s control of the virus was “pretty close to airtight,” according to the Times.
In the wake of the meetings, hedge fund consultant William Callanan wrote a memo noting that nearly every economic adviser had brought up the virus “as a point of concern, totally unprovoked.”
As the document spread among investors, one said that their takeaway was “short everything.”
In a separate Feb. 23 memo, White House trade adviser Peter Navarro warned the virus could kill up to 2 million Americans and that the U.S. was not prepared for a pandemic.
By Feb. 26 U.S. markets had fallen nearly 300 points from the previous week.
Trump told journalist Bob Woodward in February that the virus was considerably more deadly than the flu and that it was airborne, and in later interviews said he was deliberately downplaying the threat of the virus to avoid causing panic.
Several financial transactions in early February by Sen. Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrHillicon Valley: Subpoenas for Facebook, Google and Twitter on the cards | Wray rebuffs mail-in voting conspiracies | Reps. raise mass surveillance concerns Bipartisan representatives demand answers on expired surveillance programs Rep. Mark Walker says he’s been contacted about Liberty University vacancy MORE (R-N.C.) are currently under investigation. Burr made the stock sales shortly after a government briefing about the threat of the virus, but has denied any wrongdoing. However, legal experts told the Times that the selloffs prompted by the Callanan memo did not appear to have violated securities laws.
The Hill has reached out to the White House for comment.