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Senators Dumped Millions in Stock after Closed-Door Briefing on Coronavirus, Records Show

Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) arrives for a briefing in Washington, U.S., January 8, 2020. (Al Drago/Reuters)

Senators Richard Burr (R., N.C.) and Kelly Loeffler (R., Ga.) sold off millions of dollars in public stock following a closed-door briefing on the coronavirus in January, potentially violating the STOCK Act, which prohibits congressional trading on non-public information.

Congress has required its members to disclose their stock sales since the 2012 passage of the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge (STOCK) Act, which was intended to prevent lawmakers from using inside information to profit. The forms do not state the actual amount, but a range in value for each transaction.

Burr’s records show that on February 13, he and his wife sold 33 different stocks — apparently a significant share of his total holdings —that were collectively worth $628,000 to $1.7 million, including as much as $150,000 worth of stock in two hotel chains, Wyndham Hotels and Resorts and Extended Stay America.

Starting the day of the briefing, Loeffler and her husband Jeffrey Sprecher — chairman of the New York Stock Exchange — made 27 stock sales worth millions of dollars that have since fallen, and only two purchases, one of which was between $100,000 and $250,000 in Citrix, a technology company that offers teleworking software that has slightly risen in recent weeks, despite the larger market downturn.

Following reports of the records, the senators disavowed allegations of wrongdoing.

“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. “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. He supported Congress’ immediate efforts to provide $7.8 billion for response efforts and this week’s bipartisan bill to provide relief for American business and small families.”

Friday morning, Burr released an additional statement, stating his actions “relied solely on public news reports” and that he had asked the Senate Ethics Committee to “open a complete review of the matter with full transparency.”

Loeffler tweeted that the news about her financial records “is a ridiculous and baseless attack.”

Representative Doug Collins (R., Ga.), who is running for Senate against Loeffler, reacted to the news with disgust.

In a statement to National Review, Collins went further. “As public servants we are supposed to put the people we represent above ourselves,” he said. “That’s what the President is doing, his team, Congress. What I thought all of us were doing.”

Public statements and recent news reveal that both Burr and Loeffler publicly downplayed threats posed by coronavirus even after selling off significant portions of their personal portfolios.

Burr wrote an opinion article for Fox News days after his sale suggesting that the United States was “better prepared than ever before” to deal with coronavirus, only to tell a small gathering two weeks later that “it’s probably more akin to the 1918 pandemic,” according to a recording obtained by NPR. Burr pushed back on the story Thursday night, calling it “a tabloid-style hit piece” on Twitter.

Loeffler tweeted multiple times in the weeks after the meeting that the U.S. was prepared to take on coronavirus.

“Democrats have dangerously and intentionally misled the American people on #Coronavirus readiness,” she said on February 28. “Here’s the truth: @realDonaldTrump & his administration are doing a great job working to keep Americans healthy & safe.”

On March 10, she added that “the consumer is strong, the economy is strong, & jobs are growing, which puts us in the best economic position to tackle #COVID19 & keep Americans safe.”

Senators Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif.), James Inhofe (R., Okla.), and David Perdue (R., Ga.) also sold large amounts of stock following the January 24 full-Senate briefing, according to financial records.

In transactions dated January 31 and February 18, Feinstein and her husband sold $1.5 million to $6 million worth of stock in Allogene Therapeutics, a California-based biotech company — after it traded near its 2020 low. A spokesman for Feinstein said that “all of Senator Feinstein’s assets are in a blind trust. She has no involvement in her husband’s financial decisions.”

Feinstein was also outspoken about coronavirus threats following the briefing, sending a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar asking about measures to ensure adequate resources for the quarantining of travelers.

Inhofe sold as much as $400,000 in stock on January 27, including stock in Apple and PayPal, but the Oklahoma Republican was also buying stock before the briefing, which has since done poorly.

Perdue made over 100 transactions in January and February both before and after the briefing, selling between $148,050 to $995,000 and buying between $141,043 to $890,000 — including stocks in Disney and Delta Airlines, which have suffered during the outbreak.

“Senator Perdue goes above and beyond to comply with current law and meet all Senate ethics requirements, he is not involved in any day-to-day investment decisions and uses an outside financial advisor to manage all assets and publicly report every transaction in a timely manner,” a spokeswoman for Perdue told the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

Additionally, records for Senator Ron Johnson also show a $5 million-$25 million equity sale by the Wisconsin Republican on March 2, after a San Francisco-based private equity firm made a large investment in the Wisconsin-based manufacturer of specialty plastic packaging materials run by his brother.

“Obviously, this had nothing to do with the coronavirus,” Johnson told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel regarding the sale, which he said had been in the works since 2018.

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