Four senators sold stocks before coronavirus threat crashed market

Four senators sold stocks shortly after a January Senate briefing on the novel coronavirus outbreak, unloading shares that plummeted in value a month later as the stock market crashed in the face of a global pandemic.

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.

Loeffler and her husband, who is the chairman of the New York Stock Exchange, sold at least $355,000 in stocks between Jan. 24 and 31, according to Senate records, after the coronavirus briefing hosted by the Senate Health and Foreign Relations committees.

The senator and her husband also sold $890,000 in stocks from Feb. 5 to 14, days after the first confirmed coronavirus cases emerged in the U.S. but nearly two weeks before community spread of the disease was confirmed within the country.

The sales, worth at least $1.2 million together, saved Loeffler and her husband from steep losses they would have taken after the stock market’s crash began Feb. 24.

Loeffler said in a pair of early Friday tweets that she doesn’t control her and her husband’s financial assets and was informed of the sales on February 16.

“This is 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,” Loeffler tweeted.


Loeffler was among several Republican senators who tamped down concerns about the Trump administration’s response to the coronavirus outbreak while selling stocks that soon plunged within weeks of the disease spreading within the U.S. Loeffler is facing a tough election race this year, which includes an intra-party challenge from Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.).

Inhofe sold at least $180,000 in stocks on Jan. 27, days after the Senate’s coronavirus briefing, according to Senate records. Inhofe also sold at least $50,000 in stock in an asset management company on Feb. 20, days before the stock market crashed.

A spokeswoman for Inhofe did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Inhofe’s sale came roughly a week after 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.

Trump and some Republicans lawmakers have faced intense criticism for playing down the threat of the novel coronavirus, which has infected more than 14,000 Americans and claimed at least 205 deaths as of Friday morning, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

At least one Democratic senator also unloaded stock before the scale of the crisis became clear to the general public.

Feinstein, one the longest-tenured Senate Democrats, sold at least $500,000 in shares of Allogene Therapeutics, a California biotechnology company, on Jan. 31 and at least $1 million in Allogene stock on Feb. 18, according to Senate records.

A spokesman for Feinstein told The New York Times that she had nothing to do with the decisions to sell her stocks.

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

*see full story by The Hill