DOJ probing stock transactions made by lawmakers ahead of coronavirus crisis: report

Bonnie Cash

The Justice Department is reportedly probing decisions made by at least one lawmaker to sell stock in the days before the market turned downward as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.

CNN reported Sunday that the inquiry, which was launched in cooperation with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), is still in its early stages, according to two people familiar with the matter. However, at least one lawmaker, Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), has been contacted by investigators, according to CNN.

Burr is one of four senators who sold thousands of dollars’ worth of stock in the days before the stock market began a historic downturn amid nationwide travel and work restrictions implemented to stop the spread of the coronavirus, as well as reports of jobless claims jumping to historic levels due to the crisis.

A spokeswoman for the North Carolina senator insisted that Burr used no nonpublic information when making his financial decisions, as is required by the STOCK Act, and pointed to the Senate ethics inquiry Burr had requested upon news of the trades becoming public in a comment to CNN.

“The law is clear that any American — including a Senator — may participate in the stock market based on public information, as Senator Burr did. When this issue arose, Senator Burr immediately asked the Senate Ethics Committee to conduct a complete review, and he will cooperate with that review as well as any other appropriate inquiry,” said Alice Fisher, Burr’s lawyer.

Burr, she added, “welcomes a thorough review of the facts in this matter, which will establish that his actions were appropriate.”

The Justice Department, SEC and FBI declined to comment to CNN when contacted about the inquiry.

Several other senators whose own stock trades fell into similar public scrutiny in recent days have all denied using nonpublic information in their financial decisions. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), whose husband sold stock in a biotech company in January, said earlier in March that she had “no input” in her husband’s finances.

“I have no input into his decisions. My husband in January and February sold shares of a cancer therapy company. This company is unrelated to any work on the coronavirus and the sale was unrelated to the situation,” she said, according to CNN.

This article was updated on 3/31 at 11:40 a.m. to correctly note that Sen. Feinstein’s husband owned the stock in Allogene Therapeutics.

Tags Dianne Feinstein Richard Burr

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