Billionaire activist investor Carl Icahn Friday announced his departure as a special adviser to President Trump on regulatory reform, saying he wanted to avoid "partisan bickering" that "cloud" the White House administration.
Announcing the departure in a series of tweets and a letter posted on his website, Icahn characterized his exit — which came on the same day as the departure of presidential adviser Stephen Bannon — as a mutual decision after he and Trump spoke earlier Friday.
Icahn said he had received a number of inquiries during the last month asking whether his informal role might clash with Trump's appointment of Neomi Rao, an attorney and former clerk for conservative Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, as administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs.
"As I know you are aware, the answer to that question is an unequivocal no, for the simple reason that I had no duties whatsoever," Icahn wrote in his letter to Trump.
The New York City financier also used the letter to brush off partisan critics, and insist he never received any improper advantages from the advisory role.
"I never had a formal position with your administration nor a policymaking role," wrote Icahn. "And contrary to the insinuations of a handful of your Democratic critics, I never had access to nonpublic information or profited from my position, nor do I believe that my role presented conflicts of interest."
Despite Icahn's assurances, some media accounts raised questions about whether some of the issues he championed during his advisory tenure might have benefited his energy investments.
"Icahn admitted that he has advocated for policy decisions that could be worth a great deal of money to him," Norman Eisen, the chief White House ethics lawyer from 2009-2011, and Richard Painter, who held the same role from 2005 to 2007, wrote in a USA TODAY opinion column in March.
The column cited a Bloomberg News report that said Icahn had proposed restructuring of a U.S. biofuel program a move that at least temporarily boosted the price of shares in CVR Energy, a company in which Icahn is the majority owner.
" Yet he and the White House claim he is not subject to ethics and other rules that regulate such situations," Eisen and Painter wrote of Icahn. "His title and responsibilities would seem to us to suggest otherwise. If he’s not a government employee, then his advocacy could make him an unregistered lobbyist.