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March 20, 2020

Insider Trading in the Senate?

Four senators stand accused of shady trading in the wake of briefings on China Virus.

Four senators are embroiled in insinuations, if not outright accusations, of insider trading before the China Virus pandemic caused widespread cancellations and a market crash. Republican Sens. Richard Burr of North Carolina, Kelly Loeffler of Georgia, and James Inhofe of Oklahoma, as well as Democrat Dianne Feinstein of California, all sold large amounts of stock shortly after Senate briefings about the economic impact of coronavirus.

Feinstein, Loeffler, and Inhofe all claim their investment decisions are made by other people not under their direction.

“All of Senator Feinstein’s assets are in a blind trust,” her spokesman said. “She has no involvement in her husband’s financial decisions.”

“This is a ridiculous and baseless attack,” Loeffler tweeted. “I do not make investment decisions for my portfolio. Investment decisions are made by multiple third-party advisers without my or my husband’s knowledge or involvement.” She added, “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.”

Loeffler’s husband is the chairman of the New York Stock Exchange, and, according to The Daily Beast’s Sam Stein, “Loeffler had not made a single stock transaction during the three weeks she served in office prior to this one. This was her first. The day she got the coronavirus briefing.” That certainly sounds suspicious, whether founded or not.

On the other hand, Loeffler is the wealthiest member of Congress (net worth of about half a billion dollars) and the sales in question amount to a fraction of a percentage of her overall wealth. Moreover, it’s entirely possible that the decisions were made without her knowledge by competent investment managers. Even so, Loeffler is going to need a rock-solid defense or she’s in real trouble, if not legally then at least in her effort to win the Senate seat she was appointed to in December.

Burr, on the other hand, sold a significant portion of his holdings on February 13, largely from hotels and other hospitality industries that have been hit particularly hard. He was also one of only three senators to oppose the 2012 Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge (STOCK) Act, which bars legislators or their staff, as well as other federal officials, from trading based on information that is not public. He argued at the time that lawmakers were already covered by insider-trading laws. The Leftmedia is also accusing Burr of saying one thing publicly and something very different in a private meeting on February 27 after comments from that meeting were leaked. But we don’t think Burr’s efforts to reassure the public about U.S. preparedness contradict his warnings about serious consequences. Those things are not mutually exclusive.

Burr’s response:

Yet even Fox News host Tucker Carlson has called for Burr’s resignation. Mark Alexander thinks, if the allegations are true, “being drawn and quartered on the town square is appropriate for this type of profiteering.”

Alexander also says, “Every member of the Senate and House should be looked at with scrutiny over this, starting with the top 10 wealthiest Senate and House members. There were also House briefings and I have not heard about investigating transactions by those members. Perhaps there should be a resolution giving members one week for full disclosure of trust-investment transactions in the four-week period after initial briefings.”

(Updated with Burr’s fuller response.)

Another update:

For perspective, the top 10 wealthiest senators are Kelly Loeffler (R-$500 million), Mark Warner (D-$90 million), Richard Blumenthal (D-$70), Dianne Feinstein (D-$58 million), John Hoeven (R-$18 million), David Perdue (R-$16 million), Jim Risch (R-$15 million), Mitch McConnell (R-$10 million), Ron Johnson (R-$10 million), Rob Portman (R-$9 million).

And the top 10 wealthiest representatives are Nancy Pelosi (D-$160 million), Greg Gianforte (R-$136 million), Michael McCaul (R-$113 million), Vern Buchanan (R-$74 million), Trey Hollingsworth (R-$50 million), Paul Mitchell (R-$38 million), Scott Peters (D-$32 million), Don Beyer (D-$31 million), Suzan DelBene (D-$28 million), Roger Williams (R-$28 million).

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