While Defending Trump’s Virus Response, These Senators Were Selling Their Stocks

From left: Senators Kelly Loeffler (R-GA), Richard Burr (R-NC), Ron Johnson (R-WI), and James Inhoffe (R-OK).Screengrabs / PBS NewsHour; PBS NewsHour; Meet the Press; PBS NewsHour / YouTube

William James

Several senators unloaded stocks after receiving coronavirus briefings and before the stock market cratered.

As the Trump administration was telling Americans not to worry about the coronavirus outbreak and slowly rolling out its response, several senators set about selling stocks that would later plunge in value as the stock market cratered, according to The Hill.

Financial disclosures show that four lawmakers — Senators Kelly Loeffler (R-GA), James Inhoffe (R-OK), Diane Feinstein (D-CA), and Richard Burr (R-NC) — “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.”

Together with her husband, who is the chairman of the New York Stock Exchange, Loeffler unloaded at least $355,000 worth of stocks from January 24-31, following a briefing hosted by the Senate Health and Foreign Relations committees, the publication reported.

From February 5-14 — nearly two weeks before the virus’ community spread was realized — the couple sold another $890,000 in stocks.

In response to criticism, Loeffler tweeted on Friday that neither she nor her husband were directly involved in the sales: “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.”

After the same Senate briefing, Inhofe sold off at least $180,000 in stocks, and then at least another $50,000 just days before the market crashed.

Burr sold between $628,000 and $1.72 million in stock “while receiving classified briefings on coronavirus as chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee,” The Hill reported.

A spokesperson for the senator said: “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“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.”

Feinstein “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 spokesperson for the California Democrat said all of the senator’s assets are in a blind trust, and that she had no part in the decision to sell.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) also came under fire for selling stocks ahead of the market crash, but the senator said his transaction began long before the coronavirus crisis.

“Johnson just disclosed on his official statement of economic interest that he made between $5 million and $25 million on the March 2 sale of his share of Pacur LLC, an Oshkosh-based supplier of specialty plastic packaging materials. Johnson, a Wisconsin Republican, headed the company before he was elected to the Senate in 2010,” the outlet reported.

But Johnson spokesperson Ben Voelkel insisted that the sale had nothing to do with the current economic situation: "This transaction is the result of an investment by a private firm in Pacur, and Gryphon was excited enough about it that they sent out a press release. Any attempts to make this seem like anything else are just sad partisan smear tactics and proactive spreading of misinformation."

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