Stay up to date with notifications from The Independent

Notifications can be managed in browser preferences.

‘Stomach-churning’: Fury from left and right at senators who ‘dumped stock’ before coronavirus exploded

From AOC to Fox News, the senators who saved their investments from the pandemic are under pressure to resign immediately

Andrew Naughtie
Friday 20 March 2020 13:58 GMT
Fox News host calls for senator's resignation

Several US senators are now caught up in a scandal – with one senior Republican facing bipartisan calls for his resignation – over their selling off millions of dollars in stocks before the disastrous potential of the coronavirus pandemic became public.

While they were all privy to a closed-door briefing in late January that forecast serious consequences for the country and the economy, they failed to convey to the public the scale of what was likely to happen. But before the pandemic gathered momentum, they also offloaded millions of dollars’ worth of stocks invested in companies likely to be damaged by the crisis, including hotel chains and hospitality companies.

The stock transactions, which took place during February and early March, came to light in reports filed with Senate ethics officials. Among the senators whose investment behaviour after the briefings has come to light are James Inhofe and Wisconsin’s Ron Johnson, both Republicans, and Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat.

But the two who’ve drawn the most outrage are Republicans Richard Burr and Kelly Loeffler, of North Carolina and Georgia respectively. Mr Burr late last month urged a North Carolina business group to rethink planned employee travel several weeks after he dumped millions in hotel stocks. Mr Burr tweeted Friday morning he has asked the Senate Ethics Committee to review the stock sales, a process that could take months to produce a final report, contending he relied on news reports rather than anything he gleaned as a senator.

"I relied solely on public news reports to guide my decision regarding the sale of stocks on February 13," Burr said on Twitter, pointing to reporting he heard on CNBC.

Both profited in the millions from their stock sales between their briefings and the virus’s explosion across the US – and both have met with outrage from across the political spectrum.

Democratic congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, one of the US’s highest-profile progressive voices, tweeted an uncompromising verdict on the senators’ behaviour.

“It is stomach-churning that the first thoughts these Senators had to a dire & classified #COVID briefing was how to profit off this crisis.

“They didn’t mobilize to help families, or prep response. They dumped stock," she said. “Sen. Loeffler needs to resign, too.”

Outside the political media sphere, Barbra Streisand, with her 642,200 followers, has been tweeting her thoughts as well: “While Trump was reassuring Americans about this pandemic in early February, both he and Senate Intelligence Chair Richard Burr had received classified Intelligence briefings about the threat of the virus.

“Burr told a group of NC donors about it and promptly sold up to 1.6 million in stock. Insider trading anyone?”

But the stock-shedding legislators aren’t just under attack from the left. Fox News’s Lou Dobbs, a staunch defender of Donald Trump’s, called the scandal “outrageous”, tweeting the news of Ms Loeffler and Mr Burr with the words “Corruption—or coincidence? Easy call”.

And Mr Dobbs’s Fox colleague Tucker Carlson, one of the most ardent defenders of both Mr Trump and the hard-right conservative agenda writ large, spared Mr Burr nothing in a monologue on his primetime show:

“He had inside information about what could happen to our country, which is now happening, but he didn’t warn the public. He didn’t give a primetime address. He didn’t go on television to sound the alarm. He didn’t even disavow an op-ed he’d written just 10 days before claiming America was ‘better prepared than ever for coronavirus’.

“He didn’t do any of those things. Instead, what did he do? He dumped his shares in hotel stocks so he wouldn’t lose money – and then he stayed silent.

“Now, maybe there is an honest explanation for what he did. If there is, he should share it with the rest of us immediately. Otherwise, he must resign from the Senate and face prosecution for insider trading," Mr Carlson said. “There is no greater moral crime than betraying your country in a time of crisis, and that appears to be what happened.”

The outrage at Mr Burr has only been exacerbated by his team’s response to journalists investigating the scandal. NPR Washington correspondent Tim Mack reported that when he asked Mr Burr’s spokeswoman Caitlin Carroll if her office had a comment on the story, she replied with a simple “lol”. Ms Carroll has yet to respond to a request from The Independent seeking comment.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in