Politics

Billionaire Leon Cooperman has a lot of controversial things to say about Warren, Obama and other politicians who ask him to pay more taxes

Key Points
  • Leon Cooperman has a history of making controversial comments about politicians who want him to pay more taxes — and about others as well.
  • Cooperman in a new letter to Sen. Elizabeth Warren accuses the Massachusetts Democrat of admonishing him on Twitter "as if a parent chiding an ungrateful child."
  • In a New Yorker interview, Cooperman said of President Barack Obama "When he ran for President, he'd never worked a day in his life. Never held a job."
VIDEO5:4605:46
NYT's Jim Stewart: Leon Cooperman is having a healthy debate with Sen. Warren

Leon Cooperman likes his money.

The billionaire investor also has a habit of making controversial comments about politicians who want him to pay more of that money in taxes — and about other people as well.

A week after Cooperman claimed Sen. Elizabeth Warren of "s----ing on" the 'f-----ing American dream" with her proposed wealth tax on people like him, he accused the Massachusetts Democrat in a letter of admonishing him on Twitter "as if a parent chiding an ungrateful child."

At the end of his missive to Warren — who is seeking her party's 2020 presidential nomination — Cooperman called on her to "elevate the dialogue."

But Cooperman hasn't always followed his own advice to "elevate the dialogue."

A search of news archives quickly finds examples of piquant remarks by Cooperman, who did not immediately return a request for comment from CNBC.

In a 2012 New Yorker interview, Cooperman said of President Barack Obama "When he ran for President, he'd never worked a day in his life. Never held a job."

Cooperman made that claim, the magazine noted, even though Obama had in fact held a number of jobs before entering the White House, including having worked, as an attorney, law professor, community organizer, business researcher, state legislator and as a U.S. senator from Illinois.

When the interviewer apprised Cooperman of Obama's resume, he still was dismissive.

"He went into government service right out of Harvard," Cooperman said. "He never made payroll. He's never built anything."

As with Warren, Cooperman had a problem with Obama's tax policy. According to the Tax Policy Center, the top 1% of earners, including Cooperman, paid an effective federal tax rate of about 32%, 5 percentage points higher than under President George W. Bush.

Most of the tax increases implemented under Obama were done to pay for his signature health-care reform law, The Affordable Care Act. Obama extended Bush-era tax cuts for all but individuals who earn $400,000 or more annually, and for couples who earn $450,000 or more.

In addition to disparaging Obama's qualifications for the Oval Office, Cooperman also has a history of mentioning the first African American president's name in connection with that of Adolf Hitler.

In the same interview with The New Yorker, Cooperman, in talking about Obama's election during the 2008 financial crisis, said it was: "Not totally different from taking Adolf Hitler in Germany and making him in charge of Germany because people were economically dissatisfied. Now, Obama's not Hitler. I don't even mean to say anything like that."

"But it is a question that the dissatisfaction of the populace was so great that they were willing to take a chance on an untested individual."

Cooperman previously talked about Obama and Hitler in a similar comparison about their respective elections at a CNBC conference in 2011.

He later noted that his wife Toby had called him a "schmuck" for doing so.

Despite his mentioning Hitler and Obama's name together, Cooperman accused Obama of being excessive in his own language.

In a 2012 letter to Obama, Cooperman wrote, "With due respect, Mr. President, it's time for you to throttle-down the partisan rhetoric and appeal to people's better instincts, not their worst."

Cooperman has shown a similar trait of being dismissive of other people's accomplishments while lauding his own.

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Jim Cramer: Leon Cooperman is the wrong whipping boy for Elizabeth Warren

In The New Yorker interview he talked about a couple he knew who had a net worth of about $10 million, and who were on the verge of retirement.

Cooperman was quoted saying of their assets, "It was shocking how tight [the couple] was going to be in retirement ... I'm just saying that it's not an impressive amount of capital for two people that were leading physicians for their entire work life.

"You know, I lost more today than they spent a lifetime accumulating," he added.

In 2016, the Securities and Exchange Commission charged Cooperman and his investment firm, Omega Advisors, in a civil complaint with insider trading by allegedly using nonpublic information to make $4 million in profits.

After the case was filed, The New York Times reported, Cooperman held "a defiant conference call" with investors "opening with an off-color joke about an 80-year-old man bragging about having sex with an 18-year-old woman."

And, "He told investors on the call that he had refused to settle and that he would fight the S.E.C. in court," the Times reported.

Despite his initial bluster, Cooperman did settle that case in 2017 with the SEC for nearly $5 million for his and his firm's "misconduct," the SEC noted

Regardless of that settlement, Cooperman did not admit any wrongdoing.

And he told CNBC at the time that he actually would have won the case if it went to trial.

"My lawyers told me that the probability of my winning would be overwhelmingly high, that if I didn't win it had nothing to do with the merits of the case," Cooperman said.

No, Cooperman said: "It would have to do with the fact that I'm a former Goldman partner, I'm a hedge fund manager, I'm wealthy. Those are enough factoids that impress juries."