Home/Daniel Larison/The Corrupt Senators and Coronavirus

The Corrupt Senators and Coronavirus

Rod Dreher called attention to the initial NPR report that Sen. Richard Burr, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, warned big money donors about the likely severity of the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S. at a private meeting while saying none of this to the public:

This top Senate Republican (and no doubt other Senate Republicans) knew that the president was misleading the public, and said nothing. If he felt comfortable telling wealthy donors about this, why didn’t he tell the general public? Because it would contradict the president’s messaging? Why?

The original NPR story reflects very poorly on Burr. He not only gave preferential treatment to donors, but he failed to alert the public to what he knew in a timely fashion. Even if he were doing this for merely cynical political reasons to stay on Trump’s good side, it would be a dereliction of duty. But there is more to the story. ProPublica has learned more damning details that show that Burr sold more than $1 million worth in stock in the weeks prior to the market crash based on the advance information that he and other senators possessed following a briefing in late January:

Soon after he offered public assurances that the government was ready to battle the coronavirus, the powerful chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Richard Burr, sold off a significant percentage of his stocks, unloading between $628,000 and $1.72 million of his holdings on Feb. 13 in 33 separate transactions.

As the head of the intelligence committee, Burr, a North Carolina Republican, has access to the government’s most highly classified information about threats to America’s security. His committee was receiving daily coronavirus briefings around this time, according to a Reuters story.

A week after Burr’s sales, the stock market began a sharp decline and has lost about 30% since.

Burr allegedly used privileged information that he received as as an elected official for his own private benefit. It appears that Burr withheld what he knew from the public, and he made sure to pull a lot of money out of the market because he knew the effect that the outbreak was going to have before almost everyone else. This represents not only a serious breach of the public’s trust, but it is also a flagrant example of corruption of public office for personal gain. The senator needs to resign, and if charges can be brought against him they should be.

Burr was apparently not the only senator to take advantage of the information he received. Georgia Sen. Kelly Loeffler and her husband (the chairman and CEO of the NYSE) did the same thing:

The Senate’s newest member sold off seven figures worth of stock holdings in the days and weeks after a private, all-senators meeting on the novel coronavirus that subsequently hammered U.S. equities.

Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-GA) reported the first sale of stock jointly owned by her and her husband on Jan. 24, the very day that her committee, the Senate Health Committee, hosted a private, all-senators briefing from administration officials, including the CDC director and Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institutes of Health of the United States, on the coronavirus.

The timeline shows that Loeffler almost immediately started dumping stock after receiving the Jan. 24 briefing on the virus:

Loeffler assumed office on Jan. 6 after having been appointed to the seat vacated by retiring Sen. Johnny Isakson. Between then and Jan. 23 she did not report a single stock transaction from accounts owned by her individually or by her and her husband jointly.

Between Jan. 24 and Feb. 14, by contrast, Loeffler reported selling stock jointly owned with her husband worth between $1,275,000 and $3,100,000, according to transaction reports filed with Senate ethics officials.

Burr and Loeffler appear to have broken the law, and they did so to enrich themselves in the middle of a public health catastrophe. Rather than doing their duty and telling their constituents what they knew, they were more concerned to take their profits before the market crashed. At the very least, neither of them should be a senator and neither should hold an office of public trust again. If there were any other members of Congress that tried to use this information about the outbreak for their own profit, the same goes for them. Loeffler has not yet been elected in her own right, and she faces Georgian voters for the first time this fall. Somehow I doubt that voters in Georgia will appreciate being lied to and endangered while one of their senators put her portfolio ahead of their interests.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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