Senators sold off stock before market losses from virus began

WASHINGTON (AP/Gray News) — Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr is asking for an ethics probe in response to criticism that he sold off as much as $1.7 million in stocks just before the market dropped in February amid coronavirus fears.

Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., speaks with reporters on Capitol Hill, Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2020 in Washington. (Source: AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

At least three other senators made major stock moves around the same time, including Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Kelly Loeffler, R-Ga., and James Inhofe, R-Okla., according to reporting on the disclosure forms by the New York Times.

Based on the questions over the stock moves, Burr has referred himself to the Senate Ethics Committee.

Senate records show that the Republican from North Carolina and his wife sold between roughly $600,000 and $1.7 million in more than 30 separate transactions in late January and mid-February. Most of the transactions were in her name.

That was just before the market began to fall and as government health officials began to issue stark warnings about the effects of the virus.

There’s no indication that the stock sales made by Burr were made on the basis of any inside information Burr received or that they broke rules that prohibit senators from making money off insider information, but just before the stock sales, Barr co-wrote an editorial with fellow Republican senator, Lamar Alexander.

It was titled, “Coronavirus Prevention Steps The U.S. Government Is Taking To Protect You.”

Two weeks after Burr and his wife sold stock, NPR reports Burr sounded the alarm about the virus at a private event. Burr argued in tweets that the message he delivered at the event was the same as public health officials urged, to be prepared.

A spokesperson for Burr said the sales were made weeks before volatility in the markets.

Fellow Sen. Thom Tillis commended Burr for the self-referral for a ethics review, saying “there needs to be a professional and bipartisan inquiry into this matter.”

Feinstein and her husband dumped about $1 million to $6 million of stocks in Allogene Therapeutics in January and February, the New York Times reported.

Feinstein defended the stock moves via Twitter, saying not only was she unable to attend the Jan. 24 briefings on coronavirus, she has her stock holdings in a blind trust.

Loeffler, the newest member of the Senate, reported the first stock sale jointly owned by her and her husband on the day that the Senate Health Committee, a committee on which she sits, got a private coronavirus briefing from administration officials, the Daily Beast reported.

Loeffler denounced the reporting in a tweet Thursday as “a ridiculous and baseless attack. 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.”

Inhofe dumped a large amount of various kinds of stocks, totaling about $400,000, on Jan. 24, the New York Times reported.

He said he didn’t attend the Jan. 24 briefing and has no involvement in his investment decisions. He also said the sales were part of a broader strategy to sell off equities in favor of mutual funds, a process that began in 2018.

Copyright 2020 Associated Press and Gray Media Group, Inc. CNN contributed to this report. All rights reserved.