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Republicans Lash Out at GOP Sens. over Coronavirus Stock Sell-Offs

‘I’m sickened just thinking about it…’

(Ben Sellers, Liberty Headlines) Sen. Richard Burr, R-NC, defended himself under heavy fire after several media outlets accused him and three other U.S. senators of engaging in insider trading prior to the recent stock-market decline related to the coronavirus pandemic.

In response, facing calls to resign even from within his own party, Burr requested a Senate Ethics Committee investigation with full transparency, reported WRAL.

Burr, along with Sens. Kelly Loeffler, R-Ga.; James Inhofe, R-Okla.; and Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., were accused of dumping a collective $11 million in stocks in late January and early February, as the virus made its way to the U.S., according to the Daily Mail.

Burr, who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, was receiving daily briefings at the time, as was Feinstein, who sits on the committee.

Feinstein, who sold roughly $6 million in stock—including investments in a biotech firm—has previously faced scrutiny for her husband’s close business ties with the Chinese government, and her longtime driver was revealed in 2018 to be a Chinese spy.

However, Burr faced the brunt of criticism over the emerging stock scandal amid accusations that he knew of the severity and publicly downplayed it.

What Did He Know… and When?

Richard Burr / IMAGE: CNBC Television via Youtube

On Feb. 13, Burr allegedly made 33 separate transactions, based on financial disclosure reports, to unload somewhere between $628,000 and $1.72 million, reported ProPublica.

“Burr is not a particularly wealthy member of the Senate,” said the article. “Roll Call estimated his net worth at $1.7 million in 2018, indicating that the February sales significantly shaped his financial fortunes and spared him from some of the pain that many Americans are now facing.”

The market has since dropped an estimated 30 percent after the World Health Organization last week officially declared it a pandemic, prompting widespread closures and cancellations of major events.

The federal government began emphasizing the need for broader response shortly thereafter, including a list of presidential guidelines for “social distancing,” daily task-force briefings and a trillion-dollar economic stimulus package.

While Burr sought to reassure the public of the government’s preparedness in early February, NPR reported on what it claimed was a “secretive” meeting he held with an exclusive group of North Carolina businessmen and organization on Feb. 27.

“There’s one thing that I can tell you about this: It is much more aggressive in its transmission than anything that we have seen in recent history,” Burr told the Tar Heel Circle at the Capitol Hill Club. “It is probably more akin to the 1918 pandemic.”

NPR said membership in the social group costs anywhere between $500 and $10,000, with representatives from companies that had donated more than $100,000 to Burr’s last Senate campaign.

Burr, who previously announced he is not running for re-election, insisted that, at the time of the luncheon, his warnings were publicly known.

In an eight-tweet thread late Thursday, he bashed the NPR report as “tabloid” journalism and defended his speech to the Tar Heel Circle.

However, some—including conservative investigative journalist Mike Cernovich—quickly took note of the fact that his tweets made no mention of the stock sell-off two weeks prior, when the reports  remained cautiously optimistic.

Right-Wing Outrage?

At best, the reports underscore the deep uncertainty at the highest levels, the rapidity with which the virus wrought global havoc and the anxieties leaders faced in trying to relay information without triggering a mass panic.

But as public frustration grows over the health crisis, Burr may be a poignant symbol of the perceived failures in the system, motivated by personal greed.

Some already have expressed outrage that wealthy elites and celebrities seem to have better access to virus testing kits, and are taking the tests even without showing symptoms.

The trending of the Twitter hashtag #burrisma sought to link Burr’s actions with the corrupt Ukrainian business dealings of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and his son Hunter during the Obama administration.

However, as Democrats have repeatedly downplayed the Bidens’ Burisma scandal, it suggested that many of Burr’s current detractors were coming from his own side of the aisle.

Loeffler, who was recently appointed by Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp to replace retiring Sen. Johnny Isakson, may also face political fallout in her November bid to hold the seat. Even before the stock scandal, she was facing a challenge from the Right by Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga.

Loeffler, a successful businesswoman prior to her appointment, reportedly sold up to $3.1 million on Jan. 24, the same day that the Senate Health Committee, on which she sits, received a briefing from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Collins harshly criticized her on Twitter after the story broke.

Despite President Donald Trump’s continuing to convey a message of optimism that downplayed the potential alarm even into March, the president’s recent pivot to a more somber and candid outlook has helped him avoid some of the fallout.

According to The Hill, the majority of Americans as of March 20 now approved of his handling of the national emergency.

Trump defended the four senators—even Feinstein, who led the 2018 smear campaign against Trump-nominated Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

The president said on Friday that he considered them all to be “honorable people.”

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