by WorldTribune Staff, March 20, 2020
Critics are calling on four senators to resign after it was revealed they sold off millions of dollars in stocks in the days before the coronavirus crisis crashed the market.
The four senators, Republicans Richard Burr of North Carolina, Kelly Loeffler of Georgia, James Inhofe of Oklahoma and Democrat Dianne Feinstein of California, dumped the stock prior to the market losing 30 percent of its value, reports say.
Fox News host Tucker Carlson on Thursday called on Burr to resign in the wake of a Pro Publica report that said the North Carolina senator sold between $628,000 and $1.72 million of his holdings on Feb. 13 in 33 separate transactions.
“He dumped his shares in hotel stocks so he wouldn’t lose money and then he stayed silent,” Carlson said of Burr, who is co-chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. “He had inside information about what could happen … which is now happening.”
Carlson said there could be “an honest explanation for what he did. If there is, he should share it with the rest of us immediately. Otherwise, he must resign from the Senate and face prosecution for insider trading. There’s no greater moral crime than betraying your country in a time of crisis. That appears to be what happened.”
Pro Publica’s report noted that “As the head of the intelligence committee, Burr, a North Carolina Republican, has access to the government’s most highly classified information about threats to America’s security. His committee was receiving daily coronavirus briefings around this time.”
A spokesman for Burr told Pro Publica that the lawmaker made the sales “before the U.S. and financial markets showed signs of volatility due to the growing coronavirus outbreak.”
Members of Congress are required by law to disclose their securities transactions.
On Thursday, Burr came under fire after NPR obtained a secret recording from Feb. 27, in which the North Carolina senator gave a VIP group at an exclusive social club a much more dire preview of the economic impact of the coronavirus than what he had told the public.
According to the NPR report, Burr told attendees of the luncheon held at the Capitol Hill Club: “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 … It is probably more akin to the 1918 pandemic.”
He warned that companies might have to curtail their employees’ travel, that schools could close and that the military might be mobilized to compensate for overwhelmed hospitals.
The luncheon was organized by the Tar Heel Circle, a club for businesses and organizations in North Carolina that are charged up to $10,000 for membership and are promised “interaction with top leaders and staff from Congress, the administration, and the private sector.”
In a Feb. 7 op-ed that he co-authored with another senator, Burr assured the public that “the United States today is better prepared than ever before to face emerging public health threats, like the coronavirus.” He wrote, “No matter the outbreak or threat, Congress and the federal government have been vigilant in identifying gaps in its readiness efforts and improving its response capabilities.”
Feinstein, who serves as ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and her husband sold between $1.5 million and $6 million in stock in California biotech company Allogene Therapeutics, between Jan. 31 and Feb. 18, The New York Times reported.
Feinstein defended herself in a series of tweets on Friday, saying she has “no control” over her assets and the stocks in question were her husband’s transactions.
“During my Senate career I’ve held all assets in a blind trust of which I have no control. Reports that I sold any assets are incorrect, as are reports that I was at a January 24 briefing on coronavirus, which I was unable to attend,” she tweeted.
“Under Senate rules I report my husband’s financial transactions. I have no input into his decisions. My husband in January and February sold shares of a cancer therapy company. This company is unrelated to any work on the coronavirus and the sale was unrelated to the situation.”
Loeffler and her husband, Jeffrey Sprecher, chairman of the New York Stock Exchange, sold stock Jan. 24, the same day she sat in on a briefing from two members of Trump’s Coronavirus Task Force, The Daily Beast reported.
Between that day and Feb. 14, the couple sold stock worth a total between $1.2 million and $3.1 million, the report said. In addition to the sales, they also purchased stock in a maker of software that helps people work at home – just before millions of Americans were forced to leave their offices because of the outbreak, the report said.
Loeffler slammed the Daily Beast report as a “ridiculous and baseless attack” in a pair of late-night tweets. “I do not make investment decisions for my portfolio. Investment decisions are made by multiple third-party advisors without my or my husband’s knowledge or involvement,” Loeffler wrote. “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.”
Inhofe sold as much as $400,000 in stock all on Jan. 27, in companies such as PayPal, Apple and real estate company Brookfield Asset Management, The New York Times reported.
But in a written statement, Inhofe pushed back by saying he was not at a late January briefing and, further, does not have involvement in investment choices.
The statement said: “The New York Times allegations are completely baseless and 100 percent false. I was not at the briefing on January 24. I was meeting with pro-life kids from Oklahoma here for the March for Life and the new nominee to be U.S. Ambassador to Tanzania. I do not have any involvement in my investment decisions. In December 2018, shortly after becoming chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, I instructed my financial advisor to move me out of all stocks and into mutual funds to avoid any appearance of controversy. My advisor has been doing so faithfully since that time and I am not aware of or consulted about any transactions.”