On Jan. 24, members of the U.S. Senate Health Committee got a little briefing on the unfolding coronavirus situation. Since they didn’t have much else to do, they kept busy in other ways. For instance, Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina decided to write an op-ed for Fox News parroting the president’s line at the time that the whole thing was under control, before going off to tell some high-placed Tar Heels that the shit was about to hit the fan.
“There’s one thing that I can tell you about this: It is much more aggressive in its transmission than anything we have seen in recent history,” Mr. Burr said, according to a recording obtained by NPR, which reported on his remarks on Thursday. “It’s probably more akin to the 1918 pandemic.”
Oh, yea, and in between he decided to sell off a bunch of stocks (possibly accounting for the majority of his net worth) that were about to tank.
Soon after he offered public assurances that the government was ready to battle the coronavirus, the powerful chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Richard Burr, sold off a significant percentage of his stocks, unloading between $628,000 and $1.72 million of his holdings on Feb. 13 in 33 separate transactions…. His biggest sales included companies that are among the most vulnerable to an economic slowdown. He dumped up to $150,000 worth of shares of Wyndham Hotels and Resorts, a chain based in the United States that has lost two-thirds of its value. And he sold up to $100,000 of shares of Extended Stay America, an economy hospitality chain. Shares of that company are now worth less than half of what they did at the time Burr sold.
And wouldn’t you know that one of Burr’s colleagues on that committee, Kelly Loeffler (R-New York Stock Exchange) also thought she’d use some of her Mitch McConnell-enforced downtime to do some trading. And she didn’t even wait three weeks.
Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-GA) reported the first sale of stock jointly owned by her and her husband on Jan. 24, the very day that her committee, the Senate Health Committee, hosted a private, all-senators briefing from administration officials, including the CDC director and Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, on the coronavirus….. That first transaction was a sale of stock in the company Resideo Technologies valued at between $50,001 and $100,000. The company’s stock price has fallen by more than half since then…. One of Loeffler’s two purchases was stock worth between $100,000 and $250,000 in Citrix, a technology company that offers teleworking software and which has seen a small bump in its stock price since Loeffler bought in as a result of coronavirus-induced market turmoil.
Other senators also decided to get the hell out of the soon-to-be-cratering market in suspiciously good time, including Loeffler’s fellow Georgian David Perdue, Oklahoma’s Jim Inhofe and California’s Dianne Feinstein.
Like Burr, Loeffler has spent a lot of time downplaying the seriousness of the pandemic, and denies having any control over the stock sales or knowledge of them until weeks later, which if true means that her financial advisers are far smarter than she is. Burr, of course, also denies any wrongdoing, but he’s also got something of a track record of looking after No. 1 after getting key briefings, and is on record opposing the idea that members of Congress shouldn’t be allowed to insider-trade.
In 2009, he recounted in a speech how after he heard Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson discuss a major company’s difficulty moving money between banks, he called his wife and instructed her to withdraw as much cash as possible from their own accounts out of fear there would be a run on funds.
Burr was one of just three senators who in 2012 opposed the bill that explicitly barred lawmakers and their staff from using nonpublic information for trades and required regular disclosure of those trades.
Suffice it to say, this is not sitting well with some people.
“Maybe there’s an honest explanation for what he did; if there is, he should share it with the rest of us immediately,” [Tucker] Carlson said in a Thursday night segment on Fox News. “Otherwise, he must resign from the Senate and face prosecution for insider trading.”
Senator Richard Burr Sold a Fortune in Stocks as G.O.P. Played Down Coronavirus Threat [NYT]
Senator Dumped Up to $1.7 Million of Stock After Reassuring Public About Coronavirus Preparedness [ProPublica]
Sen. Kelly Loeffler Dumped Millions in Stock After Coronavirus Briefing [Daily Beast]
Sen. Kelly Loeffler grilled by Ed Henry over reports she sold off stocks ahead of coronavirus pandemic [Fox News]
Perdue, Loeffler among senators whose stock trading during coronavirus raises questions [Atlanta Journal-Constitution]
U.S. Senators Sold Stock After Coronavirus Briefings in January [Bloomberg]
Tucker Carlson calls on Burr to resign amid reports of stock selloff [The Hill]