Trump ally dumped steel-related stocks ahead of tariff news

In this Oct. 11, 2007 file photo, Carl Icahn speaks in New York. (Photo by Mark Lennihan/File/AP)
In this Oct. 11, 2007 file photo, Carl Icahn speaks in New York. 

Even before Donald Trump was inaugurated, Carl Icahn was a controversial figure in the Republican's orbit. Team Trump announced in December 2016 that Icahn, a billionaire backer of the Republican's candidacy, would serve as "special adviser" on regulations in the Trump administration.

As we discussed at the time, it was a difficult arrangement to defend: Trump intended to give Icahn power to help shape regulations that could directly benefit Icahn's own business interests. Indeed, the New Yorker  reported Icahn allegedly used his position to shape an EPA rule that affected one of his investments, and unable to answer the obvious conflict-of-interest questions, Icahn parted ways with the White House last summer.

Last week, Icahn's name reappeared in the news, after ThinkProgress noted that Trump's billionaire backer "dumped $31.3 million of stock in a company heavily dependent on steel" the week before his presidential ally announced plans for new steel tariffs. The Washington Post had a related report over the weekend:

President Trump's decision Thursday to impose crippling tariffs on the imports of steel and aluminum took many by surprise -- particularly investors, as the Dow Jones Industrial Average closed the day's trading down more than 400 points, or 1.7 percent, at 24,608.But one billionaire investor and former Trump adviser, Carl Icahn, was seemingly unvexed, having dumped a million shares tied to the steel industry a week before the president announced 25 percent tariffs for foreign-made steel.

At issue was Icahn's ownership stake in Manitowoc Company, which makes construction cranes made of steel. Not surprisingly, Manitowoc stock dropped sharply after the president made his tariff plans clear -- but Icahn had sold his shares a week earlier.

Sure, Trump had talked up the idea of steel sanctions long before last week, but the public didn't know anything about the timing of the administration's specific plan.

And that in turn suggests the president's ally had incredible timing.

Trump praised Icahn last year as someone "who is innately able to predict the future." Yep, that's quite a crystal ball the guy has.

Just to be clear, I haven't seen any evidence to suggest Icahn received a private heads-up about Trump's tariff announcement, but given the circumstances, it seems some questions about Icahn's fortuitous timing are inevitable.