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They knew. President Trump said so directly to Bob Woodward all the way back on Feb. 7, when he told the journalist that the coronavirus was “deadly stuff:” highly contagious, transmissible through the air, and “more deadly than even your strenuous flu.” You know, the exact opposite of what he was telling the country he “led” while simultaneously doing exactly nothing to stop it. Trump doubled down on it two weeks later in another little chat with Woodward, acknowledging that he “wanted to always play it down…. because I don’t want to create a panic.”

But they knew. The important people. While the rest of us went about our lives, going shopping, dining out, getting on planes and trains and breathing in everything our increasingly sick neighbors were breathing out, Trump’s people marched up to Capitol Hill to warn members of the Senate Health Committee that the shit might be about to hit the fan. They knew what to do, Sen. Richard Burr, especially: Sell your hotel shares, play it down in the press, and then run off to tell your rich buddies you were lying to the proles.

They all knew: Larry Kudlow knew on Feb. 25, when he told CNBC that the U.S. had “contained” the coronavirus. “It’s pretty close to airtight,” he said, adding that it would not produce an “economic tragedy.” Two hours later, however, he had a different take on the matter when safely ensconced among the right-wing millionaires and billionaires who sit on the board of the Hoover Institution.

Mr. Kudlow “revised his statement about the virus being contained,” Mr. Callanan wrote to Mr. Tepper, saying “we just don’t know” whether it was at the time — even as Mr. Kudlow continued to downplay its consequences to the private audience. Mr. Kudlow “did add that he has recommended to the president a period of ‘tariff tranquillity,’ as markets don’t need more uncertainty now.”

That’s hedge fund manager William Callanan writing to his fellow hedge fund manager David Tepper. Callanan asked Tepper to keep those observations “confidential,” but of course he didn’t: The e-mail circulated among Tepper’s employees at Appaloosa Management, and those employees in turn warned at least a couple of their well-heeled clients. They, in turn, passed it around among other rich people and investment professionals. And Callanan himself spread it a bit, as well, to at least one of his rich private clients. And he wasn’t just telling them the prognosis offered by a former television host.

Tomas J. Philipson, a senior economic adviser to the president, told the group he could not yet estimate the effects of the virus on the American economy. To some in the group, the implication was that an outbreak could prove worse than Mr. Philipson and other Trump administration advisers were signaling in public at the time…. Mr. Callanan reported that numerous Trump administration officials — Mr. Kudlow, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and economists at the Council of Economic Advisers, who had given the presentation at the White House on Feb. 24 — expressed a greater degree of alarm about the coronavirus than the administration was saying publicly.

One of the lucky not-so-few to receive the tip-off as to what Philipson, Kudlow and the rest were saying behind closed doors distilled it down to two words, words that were the opposite of what Trump, Kudlow and the rest were telling the investing public:

“Short everything.”

And they did, and they made a mint. They knew. They all knew. They just didn’t care.

As Virus Spread, Reports of Trump Administration’s Private Briefings Fueled Sell-Off [NYT]


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