U.S. Senator Richard Burr has sought an ethics review of his sale of $1.7 million in stocks last month ahead of the economic downturn caused by the coronavirus pandemic, as he and other lawmakers face condemnation over the sales.
Burr, who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, denied Friday that his decision to sell was based on information contained in private congressional briefings, saying he relied solely on public news reports.
In a statement Friday, he asked the Senate Ethics Committee to “open a complete review of the matter with full transparency.”
Burr, a Republican from North Carolina, is one of several lawmakers who sold large amounts of stocks recently after attending congressional briefings on the pandemic, prompting widespread criticism.
Senator Kelly Loeffler, a Republican from Georgia, also sold more than $1 million in stocks in recent weeks. Loeffler said on CNBC Friday that her stocks were sold “at the decision of our investment managers” and said she and her husband didn’t learn about the sale until later. Loeffler’s husband, Jeffrey Craig Sprecher, is the chairman of the New York Stock Exchange.
Two other senators – Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat from California, and James Inhofe, a Republican from Oklahoma – also are reported to have had financial transactions in the stock market after congressional briefings on COVID-19.
Feinstein sold $1.5 million to $6 million shares of stock in mid to late February, while Inhofe sold about $400,000 in equities in late January. Both senators denied that they attended closed Senate briefings on coronavirus that could have informed their stock decisions.
It is illegal for members of Congress, congressional staff and federal officials to use inside information to their financial advantage.
Common Cause, an advocacy group, said it is filing complaints with the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission against all four senators.
President Donald Trump was asked at a White House news conference Friday whether he is “concerned about members of Congress using information they learned from updates to sell stocks and profit off” that information.
“I don't know too much about what it's about,” Trump replied. “But I find them to all be very honorable people. That's all I know. And they said they did nothing wrong.”