WASHINGTON, D.C. – With the most recent financial disclosures from congress, comes the curious case of four senators that got a classified briefing on the Wuhan Coronavirus, and then dumped a lot of their stock. A couple weeks later, with the pandemic threat breaking out into the open, the stock market began to crater.
No worry for these four senators; they sold at the highs. One of them is our very own Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), who unloaded more than a million dollars in stock.
From the Hill:
“[…] According to financial disclosures, Sens. Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.), James Inhofe (R-Okla.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Richard Burr (R-N.C.) each sold hundreds of thousands of dollars in stocks within days of the Senate holding a classified briefing on Jan. 24 with administration officials on the threat of the coronavirus outbreak.
The sales raise questions about whether the senators violated the STOCK Act, a law that bans members of Congress from making financial trades based on nonpublic information. […]
Burr sold on Feb. 13 between $628,000 and $1.72 million in stock while receiving classified briefings on coronavirus as chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
“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 spokesperson for Burr told ProPublica regarding the stock sales.
Selling stocks before the market shows signs of falling would likely save an investor from losses.
“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.”
Burr has come under further scrutiny after NPR reported Friday that the senator compared the coronavirus outbreak to the 1918 influenza pandemic during a Feb. 27 luncheon in Washington, D.C. Burr is scheduled to retire in 2022 though he is under increasing pressure to resign. […]”
These stock sales create their own justified concerns; did these senators get spooked due to privileged information about the virus and sell stocks before the panic spread to the public?
The sales are suspect, but not inexplicable. Why members of the Senate Intelligence Committee would think it wise to sell stocks after receiving such classified briefings is a great question. At least one of the four asserts that they had nothing to do with the portfolio management decisions, which is a good firewall to have.
Yet Burr did not give that explanation. He was receiving classified briefings, and selling stocks, as he says, several weeks before the public reaction to the outbreak was felt in the markets. It is also pointed out that Burr is scheduled to retire, but “is under increasing pressure to resign.”
Therein lies the rub. Burr hinted at retirement before the 2016 elections, but then reversed course, saying he wanted to run one more time. At the time, there were suspicions that Burr was convinced to run again, but not necessarily to serve the full term. If he retired before his term was up, then a replacement would be name, essentially marking a coronation for Burr’s successor for the 2022 election. Burr was about this specifically in 2016, at the RNC in Cleveland; the senator dodged, never committing to serving the full term.
So in the case of Senator Richard Burr, did he sell stocks unethically based on his access to classified information? Or, is he preparing for an early retirement so the powers that be can go ahead and handpick his successor?