Government officials working on measures to stem the COVID infestation made well-timed, highly profitable financial trades as markets fell as the COVID War began and again later as markets rallied, according to a Wall Street Journal investigation. 

In January 2020, federal officials at various agencies already were beginning to prepare for the virus’s invasion and a response to it.

At the time, Hugh Auchincloss was senior deputy director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. On 24 January, he sold between $15,000 and $50,000 worth of a stock mutual fund.

On January’s last day, DHHS senior officials received an email warning of the virus’s severity. The same day, Auchincloss sold six mutual funds at a cash value ranging from $111,006 to $315,000, according to his financial disclosure form examined by the WSJ.

Federal officials at or above a certain rank are required to report their financial dealings annually and are barred from working on matters in which they have a financial interest.

They are not required to report exact values of trades but only that they fall within certain ranges.

Also in January 2020, officials at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) made 60 percent more sales of stocks and mutual funds than the average number of sales in the previous 12 months, the WSJ noted.

On 28 February, 2020, Jerome Powell, U.S. Federal Reserve chairman, announced the central bank would slash a key interest rate.

During the seven days before that announcement, officials at the Fed and the treasury department made more than twice as many trades as they did the same week a year earlier, the WSJ study discovered.

On 13 March, 2020, president Donald Trump invited leaders of 10 major corporations, including Walmart and CVS, to the White House to announce a national COVID testing program.

More than 300 senior federal officials owned shares in the companies at the time.

Overall, about 240 officials at health-related government agencies and the Pentagon, which was involved in rolling out the vaccine nationwide, collectively reported owning no less than $9 million and as much as $28 million in shares of biotech, drug, and manufacturing companies that stood to profit from the war on COVID, the WSJ said.

March 2020, the month that federal agencies scrambled to respond to the health emergency, was also the most active month for trades—11,600 in all, 44 percent more than during any other month the WSJ reviewed.

On 16 March, stock prices crashed on fears of the virus. 

As markets fell on that day, Elaine Chao, Donald Trump’s transportation secretary, made three purchases of stock funds at a total investment of between $600,000 and $1.2 million, her disclosure forms revealed. 

At the time, her husband, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, was negotiating a massive stimulus package to revive markets and the economy.

On 24 March, equity prices soared on news that Congress and the Trump administration were close to an agreement on a stimulus plan.

The value of Chao’s eight-day-old fund purchases soared, too.

By the end of March, her new holdings had gained 8 percent in value; by 2021, they had given her a 57-percent profit, the WSJ said.

A spokesperson for Chao said her “funds are held separately from her husband and managed without his consultation.”

As the economy was collapsing under the weight of government lockdowns, Trump announced plans to make grants and loans to major U.S. corporations, including Boeing and General Electric.

The rescue plan set aside $50 billion in forgivable loans to the airline and aircraft industries and $450 billion for other businesses and industries. “We have to protect Boeing,” Trump told reporters at the time.

On 20 March, two days after the announcement, treasury official Jeff Goettman bought stock in 15 companies, including Boeing and GE, at a total price of between $29,000 and $215,000, the WSJ noted.

A few days after his purchase, legislators added $17 billion to the rescue package targeting companies deemed essential for national security.

Boeing was among those companies.

By 27 March, Boeing’s share price had rocketed up 70 percent and GE’s had gained 17 percent.

Goettman later assembled the group of officials tasked to oversee $80 billion in supports for airline and aircraft companies.

Goettman is now chief of staff to Virginia’s Republican governor Glenn Youngkin.

On 2 April, 2020, Trump directed government agencies to help GE and five other companies secure necessary supplies to manufacture breathing ventilators for hospitals.

The same day, Goettman bought more GE stock, raising his total holdings in the company to between $3,000 and $45,000, the WSJ said.

Two weeks later, the government awarded GE a $336-million contract to make ventilators and its share price rose 5 percent.

Asked about Goettman’s activities, a treasury department spokesperson said the department “follows regulations issued by the Office of Government Ethics and we expect all employees to follow them [including] recusals to avoid conflict of interest and a prohibition against using nonpublic information to inform financial activities.”

When the WSJ asked health-related agencies for comments about their officials’ COVID-era trades, none responded. A Pentagon spokesperson said that most staffers in the defense department have nothing to do with programs affecting private companies or contractors and that the defense department “is committed to preventing conflicts of interest.”

Ethics officials at the various agencies said trades made by individuals the WSJ examined did not violate laws or regulations.

There are no rules preventing anyone from investing in diversified mutual funds.

The WSJ did not report whether the trades investigated were made by officials themselves or by investment managers with or without the individual officials’ knowledge or direction.

TRENDPOST: It is basically a crime syndicate. Two Fed regional bank presidents resigned last year after questionably timed financial dealings during the COVID War were brought to light and reported here in “Bankster Bandits Get Richer Playing the Inside Track” (14 Sep 2021).

After an internal Fed investigation, no charges were brought, which we noted in “Fed’s Bankster Bandits Get Free Ride” (22 Sep 2022).

In the wake of the scandal, the Fed said it tightened its internal ethics rules, but that failed to stop questionable trades by Raphael Bostic, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, as we detailed in “Another Fed Bankster Caught Violating Financial Disclosure Rules” (18 Oct 2022).


U.S. law mandates punishments of up to $50,000 in fines and five years prison time for federal cabinet officials who cash in on their jobs.

The law, intended to deter those officials from working on programs or policies that would enrich them, is shot through with loopholes and rarely enforced.

Sometimes, senior appointed office-holders are given waivers because they decline to sell relevant holdings but are deemed too crucial to lose from the job. In cases in which officials’ potential conflict of interest involves values less than $15,000, the rules do not apply.

In other cases, violations are simply ignored.

From 2015 through 2021, more than 2,600 such officials had invested in companies that stood to profit from their work in government, according to an extensive Wall Street Journal investigation.

Case in point: Mark Wu, who worked in the office of the U.S. Trade Representative drafting trade policies to help U.S. tech firms and online retailers.

While doing the work, Wu owned more than $1 million in Amazon stock.

The office’s ethics chief told Wu to sell the stock or recuse himself from working on tech issues related to online retailing.

He did neither. For several months, he kept the stock and kept working on trade policy.

The trade representative’s ethics office pestered him to follow the ethics guidelines, according to emails obtained by the WSJ.

Eventually, Wu quit, citing family issues. He kept his million-dollar Amazon holdings, earned his salary, and ignored ethics rules throughout.

During his tenure as a federal official, his Amazon holdings increased by between $100,000 and $500,000, the WSJ reported.

Another case from the trade representative’s office involved Michael Nemelka, who was brought on to work on issues related to intellectual property.

At the time, he held $2.6 million in shares of Sanuwave, a health tech penny stock.

The office’s ethics watchdog cited his holdings as a conflict and told him to sell them.

He refused, saying the stock was illiquid and that dumping the shares would tank the company’s share price.

Also, he “considers this investment to be the future financial nest egg for his family,” according to an ethics office e-mail the WSJ reviewed.

Nemelka suggested his assistant could screen materials that might impact Sanuwave and make sure he saw none of them.

“I’m not sure how this is going to work,” one ethics officer e-mailed another, the WSJ found. “How is his assistant going to determine whether he can participate?”

Ultimately, he kept the shares but was warned by the ethics office not to work on issues related to Sanuwave.

In 2017, Andrew Maloney went to work in the treasury department to help sell Donald Trump’s sweeping tax cut proposal. 

He followed ethics office guidelines and sold several stocks but was allowed to keep six-figure holdings in other companies, including Hess Corp. and Cigna, that benefited significantly from the tax cuts Congress enacted.

TRENDPOST: The lack of ethics enforcement is old news to Trends Journal readers.

We have detailed the U.S. Federal Reserve’s ethically challenged officials who conducted questionably timed financial dealings during the COVID War and later resigned in “Bankster Bandits Get Richer Playing the Inside Track” (14 Sep 2021).

An internal investigation found that the trades adhered to the Fed’s ethics guidelines, which we noted in “Fed’s Bankster Bandits Get Free Ride” (22 Sep 2022).

In the wake of the scandal, the Fed said it tightened its internal ethics rules, but that failed to stop questionable trades by Raphael Bostic, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, as we detailed in “Another Fed Bankster Caught violating Financial Disclosure Rules” (18 Oct 2022).

TRENDPOST: The temptation to enrich oneself as a “public servant” routinely seduces many who work in government.

Obviously, ethics offices and guidelines in too many federal agencies are either window dressing or dogs with no teeth.

The entire structure of federal ethics guidelines and enforcement mechanisms needs to be redesigned from the ground up.

Skip to content