How a pillow entrepreneur got the president's ear about a dubious coronavirus 'cure'

insider@insider.com (Lauren Frias)
·8 min read
Michael Lindell, CEO of My Pillow, with President Donald Trump at the White House.
Michael Lindell, CEO of My Pillow, with President Donald Trump at the White House.
  • MyPillow founder and CEO Mike Lindell, a major Trump supporter and donor, has formed a close allyship with the president since the entrepreneur was first tapped for an event promoting American manufacturers.

  • Earlier this week, the MyPillow CEO has recently been embroiled in controversy with regards to his support for an unproven coronavirus "cure," the botanical extract oleandrin.

  • Lindell sits on the board of Phoenix Biotechnology, the company developing the product and has a financial stake in Phoenix, thus benefiting from potential sales of the product.

  • Here's how the entrepreneur used his connections with the president to push for FDA approval of the unproven coronavirus treatment.

  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Founder and CEO of MyPillow Mike Lindell, otherwise known as the "MyPillow guy," was first tapped by President Donald Trump in the early days of his presidency to exemplify American entrepreneurship.

A major Trump donor and Fox News advertiser, Lindell formed a close allyship with the president, with Trump referring to Lindell as a "friend" and called his company's sales "unbelievable."

The MyPillow CEO, who does not have a science or medicine background, has recently been embroiled in controversy with regards to his support for an unproven coronavirus "cure," the botanical extract oleandrin — derived from the oleander plant which is toxic to humans when consumed raw. There is no known cure for the novel coronavirus.

Lindell sits on the board of Phoenix Biotechnology, the company developing the product, and has a financial stake in Phoenix and would benefit from potential sales of the product.

Here's how the entrepreneur used his connections with the president to push for FDA approval of the unproven coronavirus treatment:

Lindell, who thought of the MyPillow product while battling drug addiction, grew his idea into a multi-million dollar company in the early 2010s.

mike Lindell MyPillow my pillow
Mike Lindell, CEO of My Pillow, appears in a TV commercial for the brand.

Lindell said he first thought of the idea of the MyPillow — a foam pillow that would hold its shape — in 2004.

For the next five years, Lindell battled a drug addiction while building his company. Though working on the MyPillow had helped kept his addiction at bay, in 2008, he stayed awake for at least two weeks while doing crack cocaine, he told CNBC in a 2017 interview.

Then, on January 16, 2009, Lindell said he "had one prayer that night" regarding his addiction.

"God, I want to wake up in the morning and never have the desire again," he said, marking the beginning of his journey to sobriety.

Source: CNBC

The self-made millionaire sat next to the president during a "Made in America" event highlighting other US manufacturers in 2017.

mike lindell donald trump
US President Donald Trump shakes hands with Mike Lindell (L), founder of My Pillow, during a Made in America event with US manufacturers in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC, July 19, 2017.

In 2011, the MyPillow company started to gain traction through infomercials, but the company was also met with a lawsuit from California authorities regarding its buy-one-get-one deal.

According to the Better Business Bureau, a private nonprofit focused on building marketplace trust, files have shown that MyPillow "has a pattern of complaints concerning the on-going Buy-One-Get-One (BOGO) offer for the premium pillow offered on their website."

The offer violates BBB standards because "Lindell is manufacturing his own product and is therefore his own wholesaler," according to the CNBC report.

Moreover, complaints from consumers alleged that the pillow styles sold in retail stores and those on the website are different, according to the BBB website.

"The premium pillows are only offered on the website and the standard pillows are only offered in retail stores," the nonprofit wrote.

The BBB said the company has responded to the complaints and indicated that "they will be making changes to their advertising and packaging to clarify the different types of pillows."

Source: CNBC, Business Insider

Lindell is a major Trump donor and has appeared at campaign rallies and White House press briefings to boost the president.

mike lindell trump rally tulsa
MyPillow founder Michael J. Lindell (L) greets people before the start of a campaign rally for U.S. President Donald Trump at the BOK Center, June 20, 2020 in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Trump is holding his first political rally since the start of the coronavirus pandemic at the BOK Center on Saturday while infection rates in the state of Oklahoma continue to rise.

"This guy is going to be the most amazing president in history," Lindell told CNBC in 2017.

Source: CNBC

In March, Lindell appeared at a White House press briefing to announce that he was converting production at MyPillow to produce up to 50,000 face masks for health workers at the front lines of the pandemic.

Mike Lindell Donald Trump
My Pillow CEO Mike Lindell speaks as President Donald Trump listens during a briefing about the coronavirus in the Rose Garden of the White House, Monday, March 30, 2020, in Washington.

While it was technically not violating ethics laws by promoting his campaign donors, Donald Sherman, deputy director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said the practice "confirms cronyism is at the root of practically every decision President Trump makes."

"It's loyalty or patronage to Trump that gets you at the top of the list, whether it's a place on the White House lawn to promote your business, input in the coronavirus response, ambassadorships, and even IG positions," Sherman told Insider's Eliza Relman.

Source: Fox News, Business Insider

Through his connections with Trump, Lindell touted an unproven coronavirus treatment, to the president and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Dr. Ben Carson, who serves on the White House coronavirus task force.

ben carson coronavirus fauci
From left, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health Anthony Fauci and White House coronavirus response coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx, attend President Donald Trump's coronavirus task force briefing in the Brady press briefing room of the White House, Wednesday, March 4, 2020, in Washington.

Lindell does not have a background in science or medicine. Carson has expertise in pediatric neurosurgery and has also vouched for oleandrin to the president, though the HUD secretary's range of knowledge on antiviral drugs is not immediately clear.

A senior administration official expressed concern about Carson and Lindell's "involvement" in recommending the product.

"The involvement of the Secretary of HUD and MyPillow.com in pushing a dubious product at the highest levels should give Americans no comfort at night about their health and safety during a raging pandemic," the official told Axios.

Source: Axios, Business Insider

Lindell said the president was "enthusiastic" about the dubious drug, and that Trump "basically said" the FDA "should be approving" oleandrin as a treatment for COVID-19.

Stephen hahn FDa coronavirus task force
Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn addresses the daily coronavirus task force briefing on April 21, 2020.

Lindell has a financial stake in Phoenix Biotechnology, the company developing the oleandrin product, and sits on the company board.

In July, the MyPillow CEO also helped arrange a meeting for Phoenix executive Andrew Whitney with Trump to relay the medical benefits of oleandrin and push for FDA approval of the drug.

In an interview with Axios, Whitney said he stood by his claim that oleandrin "cured" COVID-19 in a span of two days, and he is actively pushing for the botanical extract to make it to shelves — even as a dietary supplement instead of an approved coronavirus treatment to speed up its distribution.

"Now, there are all sorts of lawyers who would tell me I can't say things like that, because you know you need to have years of studies, and you need to have this, that, and the other, and so forth," Whitney told Axios. "But as an American with a right of free expression, I'm telling you, I've seen it with my own eyes."

There is no known cure for COVID-19 the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

Source: Business Insider, Axios

CNN's Anderson Cooper excoriated Lindell during an interview, reiterating that the MyPillow entrepreneur has "no medical background" and is "not a scientist."

Screen Shot 2020 08 18 at 2.12.54 PM
MyPillow founder and CEO Mike Lindell gets into a heated exchange with CNN's Anderson Cooper.

"A guy called you in April and said he had this product," Cooper said during the interview. "You are now on the board and are going to make money from the sale of this product. The reason he reached out to you is you have the ear of the president."

"How do you sleep at night?" the CNN anchor questioned.

"Anderson, that's your narrative," Lindell responded. The MyPillow inventor went on to accuse "the media" of suppressing information on the coronavirus "cure" from the American public out of spite for the president.

 

Source: Business Insider

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