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Inside President Trump's Network of Billionaire Confidants

By Stephanie Green | July 24, 2018 | Lifestyle

The wealthiest person to ever serve as America's President has an even richer cabinet and network of billionaire confidants.


If you were one of the lucky few invited to President Donald Trump’s first state dinner, held in honor of French President Emmanuel Macron, chances are you would have been breaking bread next to a billionaire—Tim Cook, Rupert Murdoch, Steve Mnuchin, David Rubenstein and Stephen Schwarzman were all in attendance. It was not the first time that members of the triple comma club surrounded the president, nor is it likely to be the last.

Wealthy individuals with access to the White House is not new, but the direct influence of billionaires on the current administration is particularly noticeable. Which of these tycoons have the president’s ear? Let’s start with some mobsters. Not real mobsters, mind you, but, as members of the PayPal Mafia who expanded their fortunes in the boom at the turn of the 21st century, Peter Thiel ($2.5 billion) and Elon Musk ($20.1 billion) engender influence (and fear) equal to a godfather.

At the White House this spring, Trump dined with Thiel, whose data-mining company Palantir is invaluable to a number of government agencies. He might not be on direct dial like Fox News pundit Sean Hannity, but of his relationship with POTUS, Thiel told The New York Times, “I can get access anytime I want.” Musk, who lost faith in the administration after Trump withdrew the U.S. from the Paris Climate Accord, but shares the president’s fondness for social media, tweeted his support of Trump’s take on China tariffs, particularly for automotives.

Closer to home are cabinet members including Secretary of Commerce Wilbur L. Ross Jr. ($2.9 billion)—Trump’s neighbor in both Palm Beach and New York—and Betsy DeVos, who heads up the Department of Education and has about $5.4 billion in assets courtesy of her husband’s company, Amway. Although not technically a billionaire, their colleague, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin resides in the $300 million neighborhood, but who’s counting?

Worth an estimated $1.78 billion, Vinnie Viola, former chairman of the New York Mercantile Exchange, owner of the Florida Panthers and a military veteran was considered for the position of United States Secretary of the Army but withdrew; investor Stephen Feinberg ($1.25 billion) was tapped to lead Trump’s Intelligence Advisory Board; World Wrestling Entertainment billionairess Linda McMahon ($1.6 billion) leads the Small Business Administration; and Todd Ricketts ($5.3 billion), the son of Ameritrade founder Joe Ricketts, is deputy secretary of commerce. Trump was reportedly hopping mad that the Ricketts family opposed him during the 2016 primaries, but they eventually donated a cool million to the campaign.

Speaking of feuds, Trump has tussled with media billionaires like Michael Bloomberg and The Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos, but he can count on his compadre Sheldon Adelson ($40 billion) for another newspaper endorsement in 2020. Adelson purchased the Las Vegas Review-Journal, which might come in handy should the rumors of the Republicans mounting a strong primary challenge prove true.

Maybe by the next election Trump can turn foes to friends. He’s got a winning track record on that score, especially with the uber-wealthy. Billionaires Jon Huntsman Jr. ($1 billion) may have asked for Trump to step aside after the Access Hollywood tape was released, but he is now ambassador to Russia (a kind of important post). In 2009, Trump was at war with Andrew Beal ($12 billion) when Beal tried to take the reins of Trump Entertainment Resorts during bankruptcy. But, by 2016, Beal had given millions to a Trump super PAC and was on the president’s economic advisory council. Trump’s on-again, off-again friendship with Carl Icahn ($20.3 billion), meanwhile, goes back 25 years. Though Ichan declined to be on the economic advisory council, his wife Gail Icahn served on the president’s inaugural committee.

Should POTUS ever land in the poor house, he has a host of other billionaire buddies to spare him a dime like Harold Hamm ($10 billion), Diane Hendricks ($4.3 billion), John Paulson ($7.8 billion), Isaac Perlmutter ($4.1 billion), Steven Roth ($1 billion), Phil Ruffin ($2.6 billion), Thomas Barrack ($1 billion), Richard LeFrak ($6.2 billion), Stephen Schwarzman ($11.2 billion) and Steve Wynn ($3 billion), who resigned from the Republican National Committee amid sexual assault allegations.

Sometimes it takes big checks to back up big talk. Take the aforementioned Sheldon Adelson, who recently gave a $30 million check to the Congressional Leadership Fund—a larger donation than the one he handed over in 2016, and—perhaps in banking on the Republicans maintaining control of the House—coming much earlier in the campaign cycle.

So does it pay have the president’s ear? It could, indirectly. Remember the deep-pocketed Icahn? This year he received a waiver from the Environmental Protection Agency meant to help small refineries struggling to meet fuel standards—a waiver that exempts his Oklahoma refinery from the U.S. Renewable Fuel Standard, which could save it tens of millions of dollars, according to a Reuters report. Maybe it’s just a three-comma coincidence. Either way, White House access is certainly an asset.