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White House staff members hold investments similar to other people — just a lot of them

Now you can invest like a West Wing staffer.

The White House last Friday released financial disclosure forms for many of its senior officials. The documents include income and liabilities, as well as specific investments held by the staffers.

The administration didn't make the hundreds of pages of documents easily accessible — it required the public to ask for each document by staffers' names, and would not say which of them had completed disclosures. CNBC dug through more than 80 disclosures collected by ProPublica to find the stocks held most often by the staff.

For all the much-ballyhooed complexity of the Trump staff members' finances, their investment choices seemed remarkably run of the mill. They hold the usual mix of mutual funds and the occasional gold fund or bitcoin. But their equities generally mimic the rest of the market. The most commonly held S&P 500 stocks are familiar names like Apple, General Electric and Microsoft.

The disclosures are a snapshot of assets at the time employees start working in the White House, and there's no guarantee that they'll maintain the holdings.

White House staff members who earn more than $161,755 are required to fill out the forms within 30 days of starting. The disclosures are checked and confirmed by lawyers, and divestitures recommended.

CNBC's analysis included all reported stock holdings worth more than $1,000 or producing at least $200 in income, excluding assets related to employment like retirement accounts. About 30 of the documents examined included such equities. Senior adviser Steve Bannon, for example, did not list any stocks on his financial disclosure, while Chris Liddell, an assistant to the president and director of strategic initiatives and former executive at Microsoft and General Motors, owned hundreds of stocks.

Overall, the S&P 500 sectors owned by the Trump staff are very close to the general distribution of those sectors in the index.

People in the new administration seem to be more fond than average of technology stocks like Amazon, Facebook and Google, and consumer staples companies like Kraft Heinz, CVS and Procter & Gamble. They were slightly more likely to avoid companies in the consumer discretionary, industrials and real estate sectors, according to the data.

Since the disclosures were made public, reporters have looked closely at not only stocks, but all assets and income listed in the filings. Bannon earned more than $500,000 last year from entities connected to a pair of heavyweight GOP donors, Politico found. Jared Kushner and wife Ivanka Trump are retaining control of a portfolio worth at least $240 million in New York real estate, according to The Associated Press.

Because staffers are required to provide only a broad range of value for any given asset rather than an exact sum, it's impossible to know for sure how much members of the administration are worth. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is likely the richest of the lot, with assets valued at $579 million to $1.5 billion, according to the New York Times. Kushner, Gary Cohn and Wilbur Ross all have upper estimates over half a billion dollars.

Room for future conflicts

Stocks that are commonly held as part of a broad investment portfolio can be considered conflicts of interest in the hands of powerful public servants. Other holdings could simply be considered unseemly.

At least three staffers invested in Rockwell Automation, which produces equipment and software to help factories increase their use of robotic workers — possibly a liability in an administration that has emphasized saving manufacturing jobs. And Liddell had up to $15,000 invested in Herbalife, the nutritional supplement company that's been the focus of a heated investor battle for years. The company was cleared by the Federal Trade Commission last summer of allegations that it operated a pyramid scheme.

Some of the biggest companies in the country are government contractors, and are well represented in White House staffers' portfolios. Contractors could be of particular interest to investors looking to trade based on the administration because their revenue is often highly dependent on decisions made in Washington.

All the big defense firms can be found in the financial disclosures, and many paid out healthy dividends last year. Liddell is also invested in General Dynamics, the defense contractor that produces missile and marine systems for the government, among other things. Both Liddell and Director of Legislative Affairs Marc Short owned shares in Lockheed Martin.

At least four White House staff members owned shares in the defense contractor United Technologies. The company also is the parent of air conditioner manufacturer Carrier Corp, which made news in November when it was the first of many companies to attract Trump's wrath after it made plans to move jobs to Mexico. Trump announced that 1,100 of those jobs would be saved, though that number was later revised down to 800 jobs.

The filings do not indicate all of the stocks that will be divested as part of standard ethics screening. The White House said in a statement on March 31 that the disclosures were a snapshot in time and said reporters would have to seek out additional information on retained assets in the future.

"These are incredibly successful individuals, very high net worth, very sophisticated, complex asset structures, numerous sub-LLCs, trusts and other items, all of which have to be worked through," the statement said. "And for those who are fans of 'Spinal Tap,' these were the 'elevens' out of ten on the scale."