McDonald, a former federal prosecutor who joined the CFTC in 2017, has made an effort to prioritize insider trading, announcing last year that the agency had formed a specialized task force.

‘Disturbing Reports’
The CFTC now faces more pressure to show results, particularly in ensuring that government leaks aren’t giving some traders an edge. After Vanity Fair published its story, a dozen Democratic lawmakers demanded that the agency, the SEC and criminal authorities investigate the “disturbing reports of suspicious trading in our futures and equities markets” described in the article.

The Oct. 16 piece dubbed the transactions “Trump Chaos Trades” because they were all made shortly before market-moving news -- some of which involved public statements by the U.S. president. The story cited unnamed traders speculating that inside information played a role in five perfectly-timed transactions involving S&P 500 e-mini futures that netted gains of as much as $1.8 billion.

Wall Street widely panned the article. The piece attributed billions of dollars worth of transactions to a single bad actor or group of cheaters, a premise that industry insiders said was an implausible reading of trading data.

CME Group Inc. Chief Executive Officer Terry Duffy, who runs the exchange where the trades purportedly took place, called the story “nonsensical.” Other critics said comments by public figures such as Trump frequently move markets so someone looking for suspicious timing is almost guaranteed to find it.

The story’s author, William D. Cohan, said his article was based on traders with decades of experience alerting him to suspicious transactions.

“I reported what traders were telling me,” he said in an email. “I am pleased the regulators looked into it and I am ecstatic they didn’t find anything.”

Democrats have previously expressed concern that Trump or his aides might be inappropriately sharing market-moving information.

Last year, three senators including Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren asked the SEC and CFTC to investigate whether there were unusual transactions tied to a June 2018 incident when Trump drove markets higher by tweeting that he was “looking forward” to the jobs report about an hour before its release. At lawmakers’ behest, regulators looked into the matter and didn’t bring a case, according to two people familiar with the matter.

--With assistance from Nick Baker.