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Trump’s choice for Army secretary drops out

Vincent Viola, the billionaire high-frequency trader, has withdrawn his candidacy to join Donald Trump’s administration on Friday, becoming the first high-level casualty of what has been a chaotic start to the new presidency. 

The end of Mr Viola’s bid to become Mr Trump’s secretary of the Army came as he faced questions about whether he could extricate himself from his business dealings sufficiently to meet government ethics requirements. It was confirmed by Sean Spicer, the White House spokesman, in an email to the Financial Times. 

“He did withdraw,” Mr Spicer wrote, confirming reports in the US media. In a statement, a spokesman for Mr Viola said he had decided that the difficulty of separating himself from his businesses had proved “insurmountable”.

Mr Viola’s withdrawal highlighted the different standards being applied to Mr Trump and his nominees. While Mr Trump has opted to retain his business interests and handed control to his two oldest sons his cabinet nominees are being required to divest their own vast businesses in order to meet conflict of interest laws.

The blow to the new president’s plans came as another financier and campaign adviser, Anthony Scaramucci, confirmed that he would not be taking up a post in the White House amid reports of political jousting inside the administration and questions over his sale of Skybridge Capital, his fund of hedge funds business, to a group of investors including a Chinese conglomerate. 

“There is no whining in sports or politics. I am regrouping and getting ready for the next play! Until then…”, Mr Scaramucci, who was due to act as the Trump administration’s liaison to business, tweeted on Friday night. 

Mr Trump’s first two weeks in office have been plagued by controversy, reports of infighting and chaotic policy making within his White House as well as poor poll numbers. A majority of respondents to a CNN/ORC poll released on Friday said they did not approve of how the New York businessman was handling his job. 

The president’s nominee for education secretary, Betsy DeVos, is also facing a tough fight for confirmation in the Senate with the defection of at least two Republicans threatening her candidacy. 

Mr Viola – like Mrs DeVos – is one of several billionaires that Mr Trump recruited for his administration after campaigning on a populist agenda aimed at disgruntled blue collar voters in the American rust belt. 

A former paratrooper and graduate of the US Military Academy at West Point, Mr Viola made his fortune as a commodity trader and rose to chairman of the New York Mercantile Exchange. He founded high-frequency trader Virtu, which listed publicly in 2015, and owns the Florida Panthers, a professional ice hockey team. 

“Whether it is his distinguished military service or highly impressive track record in the world of business, Vinnie has proved throughout his life that he knows how to be a leader and deliver major results in the face of any challenge,” Mr Trump said of Mr Viola when he nominated him for the post. 

Virtu had said Mr Viola would step down as chairman if confirmed, though it said TJMT Holdings, a Viola family trust, would continue to be the company’s majority shareholder. Mr Viola had also said he would place his stake in the Florida Panthers in a family trust. 

But in an indication that he had struggled to meet the demands of the Office of Government Ethics, which polices potential conflicts of interest, his financial disclosures and other paperwork detailing how he would divest his business stakes were never made public. 

The New York Times earlier this week also reported that Mr Viola was facing questions over plans to swap his stake in Eastern Airlines for one in a smaller charter company that did business with the government. 

Mr Scaramucci was the Trump administration’s main pitchman at this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos, on the sidelines of which he announced the sale of his Skybridge Capital to a group including Chinese conglomerate HNA. 

He was due to head the White House’s Office of Public Liaison and Intergovernmental Affairs, which would have made him a key link to the business community. Reports in recent days indicated that he had been the target of political battles inside the White House with rivals raising questions about the sale of his business to HNA. 

Via FT