While denying that he did anything wrong, Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) on Friday requested an ethics review into his decision to dump up to $1.72 million in stocks before the coronavirus pandemic sent the market into freefall. In addition to Burr, Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.), and Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) also made hefty stock sales before the Chinese Flu crisis tanked global markets.
After receiving private briefings about the coronavirus, Burr, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, sold between $628,000 and $1.72 million of his holdings in more than 30 transactions, according to ProPublica.
The report said the transactions involved a significant percentage of the senator’s holdings and took place about a week before the impact of the virus outbreak sent stock prices plunging.
“Senator Burr filed a financial disclosure form for personal transactions made several weeks before the U.S. and financial markets showed signs of volatility due to the growing coronavirus outbreak,” a Burr spokesperson said in response to the report. “As the situation continues to evolve daily, he has been deeply concerned by the steep and sudden toll this pandemic is taking on our economy.”
“I relied solely on public news reports to guide my decision regarding the sale of stocks on February 13,” Burr said in a statement. “Specifically, I closely followed CNBC’s daily health and science reporting out of its Asia bureaus at the time. Understanding the assumption many could make in hindsight however, I spoke this morning with the chairman of the Senate Ethics Committee and asked him to open a complete review of the matter with full transparency.”
My statement in response to reports about recent financial disclosures: pic.twitter.com/J4kye5a4ok
— Richard Burr (@SenatorBurr) March 20, 2020
After being privy to intelligence briefings on COVID-19, Burr, weeks before it escalated to a full-blown pandemic, “warned a small group of well-connected constituents” during a luncheon at the Capitol Hill Club to “prepare for dire economic and societal effects of the coronavirus,” NPR reported.
“There’s one thing that I can tell you about this: It is much more aggressive in its transmission than anything that we have seen in recent history,” he said, according to a secret recording of the remarks obtained by NPR. “It is probably more akin to the 1918 pandemic.”
Republicans and Democrats alike have condemned Burr for the apparent insider trading, and some are even calling on him to resign, as The Federalist’s Mollie Hemingway noted:
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., tweeted of the North Carolina Republican: “Burr knew how bad it would be. He told the truth to his wealthy donors, while assuring the public that we were fine. THEN he sold off $1.6 million in stock before the fall. He needs to resign.”
Hemingway argued that it is “long past time for Burr to step aside as chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence” after being “worse than useless” during the excruciating Russia hoax investigations that hobbled the Trump administration for three years.
Burr helped perpetuate the idea that this was a reasonable and not insane theory, and took many actions to protect those who spied on the Trump campaign, leaked against Trump administration officials, and withheld evidence from the real congressional overseers on other Senate committees and in the House of the Representatives.
The only notable thing to have happened in that committee over the course of the Russia collusion hoax was the arrest of one of its staffers for lying regarding his leaks of information to reporters he was intimate with. Those reporters published information about the surveillance of Carter Page, a Trump campaign affiliate. Burr defended the staffer and begged that he not be imprisoned for his work in perpetuating the false and dangerous Russia collusion hoax.
Several other senators have been accused of dumping stocks just before the market began to crash.
According to the New York Times, Senator Feinstein and her husband reported selling between $1.5 million and $6 million in stock in California biotech company Allogene Therapeutics, between Jan. 31 and Feb. 18. Feinstein currently serves as ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee and has served on the Senate Intelligence Committee since 2001.
A spokesman for Feinstein told the Times that the senator wasn’t directly involved in the sale.
“All of Senator Feinstein’s assets are in a blind trust,” the spokesman, Tom Mentzer, said. “She has no involvement in her husband’s financial decisions.”
Senator Loeffler and her husband, Jeffrey Sprecher, chairman of the New York Stock Exchange, sold their stock on Jan. 24, the same day she sat in on a briefing from two members of Trump’s Coronavirus Task Force, according to The Daily Beast.
Loeffler tried to do damage control on Twitter Friday morning, calling the the report a “ridiculous & baseless attack.”
“Investment decisions are made by multiple third-party advisors without my or my husband’s knowledge or involvement,” she tweeted.
As confirmed in the periodic transaction report to Senate Ethics, I was informed of these purchases and sales on February 16, 2020 — three weeks after they were made.
— Senator Kelly Loeffler (@SenatorLoeffler) March 20, 2020
In an interview Friday with Fox News’ Ed Henry, Loeffler called accusations that she engaged in insider trading “absolutely false.”
“I’m not involved in the decisions” of buying and selling, she added, while saying she’d cooperate if an investigation is launched.
On Jan. 27, Oklahoma Republican Jim Inhofe reportedly dumped as much as $400,000 worth of stock in five different companies, including Apple, PayPal and Brookfield Asset Management, according to a disclosure report.
When asked about the reports at his White House briefing with the Coronavirus task force, Friday, Trump said he didn’t know too much about it, but that he finds them all “to be very honorable people.”
“Are you concerned about members of Congress that may have have used information they learned on updates to sell stocks and profit off of this?” asked former White House press secretary Sean Spicer, who now works for Newsmax.
“I’m not aware of it,” Trump replied. “I saw some names. I know all of them. I know everyone mentioned, Dianne Feinstein, I guess and a couple of others. I don’t know too much of what it’s about, but I find them to all be very honorable people.”
Sean Spicer—Trump's ex-press secretary now employed by NewsMax—asked POTUS at a White House press briefing if he's concerned about members of Congress using internal coronavirus updates to sell stock & profit.
— Anna Massoglia (@annalecta) March 20, 2020