Trump officials, while painting a rosy picture in public, warned conservative allies that coronavirus could harm economy

  • The New York Times reported Wednesday that Trump administration officials were far more fearful of COVID-19, in private, than they were letting on in public.
  • In a February 25 address to board members of the conservative Hoover Institution, economic advisor Larry Kudlow said the virus was "contained in the US, to date, but now we just don't know."
  • Earlier in the day, Kudlow told CNBC: "We have contained this… It's pretty close to airtight."
  • The comments were recorded in a memo by one attendee, soon making their way to investors on Wall Street.
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On television, Larry Kudlow was optimistic. "We have contained this," President Donald Trump's top economic advisor said of the coronavirus. "I won't say 'airtight,' but it's pretty close to airtight."

But hours after his Feb. 25 appearance on CNBC, Kudlow's private remarks to a right-wing think tank were far more circumspect, The New York Times reported Wednesday. The virus, he said, was "contained in the US, to date, but now we just don't know."

The comments to the board of the Hoover Institution, which Kudlow confirmed to The Times, were recorded in a memo by William Callanan, a hedge fund consultant who noted with alarm that Kudlow and other US officials who spoke to the gathering, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, brought up COVID-19 "as a point of concern, totally unprovoked."

In an email to David Tepper, founder of the Appaloosa Management hedge fund, Callanan noted that the president's economic advisor had just "revised his statement about the virus being contained."

His attached memo was forwarded throughout the firm, The Times reported, and from there to others on Wall Street.

Investors, The Times noted, were already selling off stocks at the time. But they understood the significance of administration officials appearing to support their fears: "The president's aides appeared to be giving wealthy party donors an early warning of a potentially impactful contagion at a time when Mr. Trump was publicly insisting that the threat was nonexistent," The Times explained.

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