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How Billionaire Investor Carl Icahn Has Unprecedented Access To Trump


As we know, Donald Trump's inner circle is filled with family and friends and business associates, many of whom happen to be very wealthy people with complicated investment portfolios. Carl Icahn is President Trump's special adviser on regulatory reform. He's also a billionaire investor in some of America's most heavily regulated industries. Here's NPR's Peter Overby.

PETER OVERBY, BYLINE: Carl Icahn doesn't hold back.


CARL ICAHN: Some people make a living studying artificial intelligence. I make it studying natural stupidity. And what the EPA is doing is just naturally stupidity.

OVERBY: Icahn spoke with CNNMoney back in March. His interest in EPA has a lot to do with the company he owns - CVR Energy. It's got an oil refinery in Texas. And EPA has got rules to make refineries and other pollution sources pay for the pollution they generate.


ICAHN: Capriciously, the EPA has decided to penalize these businesses.

OVERBY: Industry hopes were high that Icahn would change the rules. CVR stock nearly doubled in value. But the change hasn't happened, and the stock price has eased back. Icahn and Trump, both from Queens, go way back together as friends and sometimes rivals. Early in the campaign, Icahn made a video that effectively previewed Trump's message that the country was like broken companies he'd seen.


ICAHN: We need a president that can move Congress. And I think Donald Trump could do it. I disagree with him on certain issues and certainly would talk to him more. But this is what this country needs, somebody to wake it up.

OVERBY: The White House told NPR that despite Icahn's title as special adviser, he's simply a private citizen, not an administration official or policymaker. That means he's not covered by federal ethics laws. Over the winter, Trump had Icahn vet his nominee to be EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt, before the Senate did.

Icahn also vetted Jay Clayton, nominated to run the Securities and Exchange Commission. At Clayton's confirmation hearing in March, Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts noted that Icahn had invested in the stock of the drug maker Bristol-Myers Squibb.


ELIZABETH WARREN: And to be clear, he purchased this stake months after he was appointed as a special adviser to the president for regulatory policy.

OVERBY: She asked Clayton, could a drug company's stock prices be affected by decisions made at the Food and Drug Administration, the Patent Office, Medicare and Medicaid. He said, yes, yes, and yes. Warren continued.


WARREN: Because of course they could, and Mr. Icahn is helping dictate Trump administration policy at the same time that he is buying stock in this company.

OVERBY: Now Warren and several other Democratic senators are calling on EPA, the SEC and one other agency to investigate Icahn for insider trading and market manipulation. Public Citizen says Icahn should really register as a lobbyist even though, as Rob Weismann, the watchdog group's president, points out...

ROBERT WEISSMAN: It's not that he's on the outside buying influence. He's on the inside.

OVERBY: So has anyone else in recent American history had this combination of access to the president, sweeping portfolio, and freedom from federal ethics laws?

WEISSMAN: It is just extraordinary. And no, I cannot think of anything like it.

OVERBY: The bigger question could be, will Carl Icahn, presidential special adviser, turn out to be a unique figure in the history of presidents or a model for future administrations? Peter Overby, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Peter Overby has covered Washington power, money, and influence since a foresighted NPR editor created the beat in 1994.