- Richard Burr, Kelly Loeffler, James Inhofe, and Dianne Feinstein came under fire after reports emerged they had sold stock as coronavirus spread in the US.
- Burr was significantly criticized for selling at least $628,000 in stock while being part of a panel that had access to classified government information on coronavirus.
- The North Carolina Republican faced calls for his resignation.
- The revelations raised questions as to whether the senators moved to dump their stocks before a public health emergency that threw financial markets into a tailspin and erased trillions in wealth.
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Four senators are coming under fire for selling massive stock holdings as the coronavirus spread across the US.
Republican Sens. Richard Burr, James Inhofe, and Kelly Loeffler all dumped stock in late January and early February, around the time when the first diagnosed cases of coronavirus emerged in the US. Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein also sold a significant amount of stock.
Here’s how much each senator sold and the time period each transaction was completed:
- Burr sold 33 different stocks, some in hotel chains, collectively worth between $628,000 and $1.7 million on February 13, according to Senate records.
- Loeffler reported 27 different stock sales on her Senate disclosure form beginning January 24 and worth at least $1.2 million.
- Inhofe sold large stock holdings on January 27 in companies like PayPal and Apple worth about $400,000 per a Senate disclosure report.
- Feinstein and her husband sold between $1.5 million and $6 million in stock between January 31 and February 18, according to disclosure reports initially published in The New York Times.
The revelations raised questions as to whether senators had unloaded stocks before an outbreak that threw financial markets into a tailspin and erased trillions in wealth.
The details around Burr triggered widespread outrage. Given his position as the head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, the North Carolina senator was part of a panel that received numerous briefings on the threat from the coronavirus, Reuters reported.
Burr also came under criticism after a secret recording first published by NPR on Thursday showed the senator striking a far more dire tone on the virus threat in a gathering with business leaders in late January compared to his public statements.
In a statement directly addressing the financial disclosures, Burr said he "relied solely on public news reports" and cited CNBC's coverage. He also called on the Senate Ethics Committee to review his actions.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a prominent House Democrat, called on Burr to resign and accused him of misleading the public about the severity of the outbreak.
Some watchdog experts say his moves raise the possibility that he made money off information he had privileged access to.
"We have huge concerns with this ethically. As a senator, he has a responsibility to his constituents first. The idea that he might be profiting off insider information is problematic," Lisa Gilbert, vice president of legislative affairs at the government watchdog group Public Citizen, told The Washington Post.
The other senators also faced criticism. Loeffler tweeted about attending a Senate briefing on coronavirus on January 24, and began dumping stocks shortly after. The first stock was in a company named Resideo Technologies, which has shed half its value in the ensuing market plunge over coronavirus.
Loeffer went on the defense in a tweet, calling the scrutiny "a ridiculous and baseless attack" and saying "third-party advisors" oversee the portfolio she shares with her husband Jeffrey Sprecher, the chairman of the New York Stock Exchange.
Inhofe also echoed his Senate colleague in a statement released Friday, saying the allegations were "completely baseless and 100% false." He added he didn't have "any involvement" in investment decisions made by his financial adviser.
"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," Inhofe said.
Feinstein is one of the longest sitting Democrats in the Senate, and also part of the Senate Intelligence Committee, which received several classified briefings on coronavirus last month.
Three days before the first sale, Feinstein joined other Senate Democrats on January 28 to send a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services to express "deep concern" about the coronavirus spreading in the US.
In a statement to Business Insider, the California senator said she wasn't at the January 24 Senate briefing on coronavirus and that she had put all her assets into a blind trust. She also said she didn't personally make the decision to sell any stock.
"During my Senate career I've held all assets in a blind trust of which I have no control," Feinstein said. "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 went on: "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."
Congress began mandating that members disclose all stock transactions in 2012 under the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act, or STOCK Act. The law was designed to bar lawmakers from profiting on sensitive information they have access to. Transactions are reported in ranges on disclosure forms.