Trump Conned Voters Says Hedge Funder: Wall Street In Power

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Above Photo: John Bazemore/AP Photo

  • Mnuchin would be third Goldman Treasury secretary since 1990s
  • ‘I think Donald Trump conned them,’ says hedge fund manager

Hedge fund manager Whitney Tilson was feeling happy Wednesday morning.

After Donald Trump ridiculed Wall Street on the campaign trail, the President-elect tapped former Goldman Sachs Group Inc. executive Steven Mnuchin to be his Treasury secretary and billionaire investor Wilbur Ross to lead the Commerce Department. Trump even met with Goldman Sachs President Gary Cohn inside Trump Tower.

It would suit Tilson just fine if voters who backed Trump because he promised to rein in Wall Street are furious now that he’s surrounding himself with bankers and billionaires.

“I can take glee in that — I think Donald Trump conned them,” said Tilson, who runs Kase Capital Management. “I worried that he was going to do crazy things that would blow the system up. So the fact that he’s appointing people from within the system is a good thing.”

Goldman Alums

If Mnuchin becomes Treasury secretary, he’ll be the third Goldman Sachs alum in three decades to get the job. As Trump switches from using Wall Street as a punching bag to a farm team, bank stocks are roaring and executives and investors are sighing with relief. They’re not too worried about fury from Trump’s voters.

“Some say that those who elected him may be disappointed in some way,” said Scott Bok, who heads boutique investment bank Greenhill & Co. “But I think all those people want is a stronger economy. If tax cuts and infrastructure spending get them that, I think they’ll be happy.”

Mnuchin, 53, the son of a Goldman Sachs partner, thrived at the institutions Trump mocked during the campaign. He was tapped into the Skull and Bones secret society at Yale, joined the bank and became a top executive, ran a hedge fund and invested in Hollywood blockbusters. When he saw TV news shots of customers lined up outside a branch of California bank IndyMac trying to pull their money in 2008, he spotted an opportunity.

“I’ve seen this game before,” he recalled saying in an interview earlier this year. “This bank is going to end up failing, and we need to figure out how to buy it.”

Mnuchin gathered billionaires including George Soros and John Paulson and assembled a $1.6 billion bid to buy IndyMac. They rebranded it OneWest and sold the bank in August 2015 for $3.4 billion. It carried out more than 36,000 foreclosures during Mnuchin’s reign, according to the nonprofit California Reinvestment Coalition, which accused OneWest of shoddy foreclosure practices and avoiding business in largely black or Latino neighborhoods, claims the bank has denied.

‘Mission Accomplished’

Former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, a Republican who leads the Financial Services Roundtable, a bank lobbying group, thinks any rage over Mnuchin’s pedigree will fade if he does his job well. “If those results are really good for everyday Americans, it will be ‘mission accomplished,” Pawlenty said. “The public’s focus will soon shift.”

On Wednesday morning, as a former Goldman Sachs executive was getting into his car in the suburbs to drive into New York, he said he was relieved by the Mnuchin news. The executive, who asked for anonymity to talk politics, brushed aside a question about populist fury over Trump’s Wall Street picks by saying a blue-collar high school graduate wouldn’t belong at the head of the Treasury Department.

Shares of all the big Wall Street firms climbed Wednesday, with Goldman Sachs rising 3.6 percent, the best performance in the Dow Jones Industrial Average.

Bank Bashing

Another former Goldman Sachs banker, SkyBridge Capital founder Anthony Scaramucci, is said by analysts to be under consideration for a job as a top Treasury deputy. He’s well known for once asking President Barack Obama when he’d stop bashing Wall Street. Stephen Bannon, Trump’s chief strategist, worked at Goldman Sachs, too.

Tilson, who was relieved Trump picked an industry veteran instead of a wildcard, still has concerns, especially because Trump promised to dismantle the Dodd-Frank Act, enacted after the financial crisis almost toppled the global economy.

“I’m a fan of Dodd-Frank, I think banking should be boring,” said Tilson, who voted for Hillary Clinton. “I worry about Wall Street returning to being a casino.”

Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren is worried, too. “Mnuchin is the Forrest Gump of the financial crisis — he managed to participate in all the worst practices on Wall Street,” the Democrat said in a statement. “His selection as Treasury secretary should send shivers down the spine of every American who got hit hard by the financial crisis.”

  • Southern

    - After Donald Trump ridiculed Wall Street on the campaign trail, the President-elect tapped former Goldman Sachs Group Inc. executive Steven Mnuchin to be his Treasury secretary and billionaire investor Wilbur Ross to lead the Commerce Department. Trump even met with Goldman Sachs President Gary Cohn inside Trump Tower.

    Apart from the faces, nothing really changes….meet new boss….same as old boss.

  • Aquifer

    Echoes of Obama and BClinton indeed …

  • David Schultz

    It will be curious how someone known as a “foreclosure machine” like Mnuchin intends to carry out Trump’s populist economic plans. Neo-classic economics mumbo-jumbo is not going to get America out of this mess and create 4% real growth. If Mnuchin does not turn out to be a maverick, will we see the old Trump come out and say, “You’re fired.”

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