- U.S. Senator Richard Burr has faced public scrutiny after records revealed that he sold thousands of dollars worth of stock prior to the market’s crash in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
- Burr was also reported to have warned a small party of the severity of the issue while the Trump administration was delivering a much more relaxed message to the rest of the nation.
- Several other U.S. senators including Kelly Loeffler, Dianne Feinstein, and James Inhofe also made stock sales prior to the escalation of the U.S. health crisis.
- Some are concerned that the lawmakers might have exploited their early access to special information by selling stocks, but all have denied this is the case.
- Amid criticisms, Burr invited the Senate Ethics Committee to review his sales to promote full transparency.
Burr in Hot Water
Several U.S. Senators have come under fire after public records revealed they sold personal stocks just before the market crashed under the pressure of the coronavirus pandemic.
Documents show that Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) and his wife sold hundreds of thousands worth of stocks in 33 separate transactions in mid-February. Collectively the stocks were worth between $628,000 and $1.7 million, but exact numbers are not clear as the records display the transactions in ranges. Some of the stocks sold were holdings in a hotel and resort line that has since lost two-thirds of its value.
Just days before Burr made these transactions, he wrote an op-ed for Fox News saying that “the United States today is better prepared than ever before to face emerging public health threats, like the coronavirus.”
Burr serves as chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, a position in which he receives regular briefings on safety threats to the country. According to Reuters, the committee was getting updates about the outbreak on a daily basis around the time Burr sold his stocks. Senate aides told NBC that the reports the committee received in January and February included non-public information about the coronavirus that remains classified.
On Feb. 27, two weeks after Burr sold his stocks, he spoke to a small, nonpartisan group at a social club in Washington, D.C. delivering a concerning message.
“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,” he said, according to a recording obtained by NPR. “It is probably more akin to the 1918 pandemic.”
The same day, Donald Trump downplayed the seriousness of COVID-19 to the rest of the country, saying, “it’s going to disappear.”
“It could get worse before it gets better,” Trump said on Feb. 27. “It could maybe go away. We’ll see what happens.”
NPR reported that among the attendees at the luncheon where Burr spoke were companies and organizations that contributed to Burr’s election campaign several years ago.
On his Twitter page, Burr called the NPR story a “tabloid-style hit piece.” He addressed the accusations in a string of tweets, saying the luncheon was held by the North Carolina State Society.
“It was publicly advertised and widely attended,” Burr wrote on Thursday. “NPR knew, but did not report, that attendees also included many non-members, bipartisan congressional staff, and representatives from the governor’s office.”
“Every state has a state society. They aren’t ‘secretive’ or ‘high-dollar donor’ organizations,” Burr added. “They’re great civic institutions that bring people in D.C. together for events, receptions, and lunches.”
Burr’s representatives also addressed the criticism he has faced.
“Senator Burr has been banging the drum about the importance of public health preparedness for more than 20 years,” spokesperson Caitlin Carroll told NBC. “His message has always been, and continues to be, that we must be prepared to protect American lives in the event of a pandemic or bio-attack.”
Carroll also addressed Burr’s stock sales.
“Senator Burr filed a financial disclosure form for personal transactions made several weeks before the U.S. and financial markets showed signs of volatility due to the growing coronavirus outbreak,” Carroll said.
More Senators Under Fire
Burr was not the only one to sell big stocks right before the market dropped. According to public records, a handful of other senators did the same.
Records reveal that Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-GA) and her husband, a chairman of the New York Stock Exchange, reported millions of dollars worth of stock sales across 27 transactions beginning at the end of January. Loeffler began selling stock on Jan. 24, the day she was apart of a Senate Health Committee private briefing with updates on the coronavirus.
Like Burr, Loeffler sold sales in companies that have suffered from the coronavirus pandemic. Furthermore, she and her husband bought between $100,000 and $250,000 worth of stock in a teleworking software company that has spiked in value as more citizens are working remotely.
“I want to set the record straight: This is a ridiculous & baseless attack,” Loeffler wrote in a tweet. “I don’t make investment decisions for my portfolio. Investment decisions are made by multiple third-party advisors without my or my husband’s knowledge or involvement.”
On Jan. 27, Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) sold as much as $400,000 worth of stock in multiple companies including Apple, PayPal, and a real estate company. In two separate transactions on Jan. 31 and Feb. 18, Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and her husband sold $1.5 million to $6 million worth of stock in a bio-technology company. Feinstein also serves on the Senate Intelligence Committee.
According to the Los Angeles Times, Inhofe and Feinstein’s financial moves seem to be routine. Both have said their investments are made without their involvement and noted they were not at the Senate Health Committee briefing on Jan. 24.
“Reports that I sold any assets are incorrect, as are reports that I was at a Jan. 24 briefing on coronavirus, which I was unable to attend,” Feinstein said in a statement. “Under Senate rules, I report my husband’s financial transactions. 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.”
Calls for Resignation
Under the STOCK act, it is illegal for members of Congress to participate in trading based on nonpublic information. After the recent reports came out yesterday, multiple figures questioned the ethics of Sen. Burr’s stock sales and called upon him to step down from his position.
Texas Democrat Rep. Joaquin Castro addressed the controversy on Twitter.
“As a member of the House Intelligence Committee, I know that our committee receives sensitive information, including assessments and projections, before others in Congress and the general public (if ever),” Castro wrote. “Sen. Burr should suspend his chairmanship pending investigation.”
Fox News Host Tucker Carlson made fiery remarks about Burr during his show on Thursday night.
“He dumped his shares in hotel stocks so he wouldn’t lose money, and then he stayed silent,” Carlson said. “Maybe there is an honest explanation for what he did. If there is, he should share it with us immediately. Otherwise, he must resign from the Senate and face prosecution for insider trading.”
U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez also called for Burr’s resignation.
“Burr knew how bad it would be. He told the truth to his wealthy donors, while assuring the public that we were fine,” Ocasio-Cortez wrote. “THEN he sold off $1.6 million in stock before the fall. He needs to resign.”
Several hours later, AOC reiterated a similar message about Sen. Loeffler, calling for her resignation as well.
“It is stomach-churning that the first thoughts these Senators had to a dire & classified #COVID briefing was how to profit off this crisis,” Ocasio-Cortez wrote.
Burr’s Call For Investigation
On Friday, in the midst of all the backlash, Burr said that he made a request to the Senate Ethics Committee to review his recent transactions.
“I relied solely on public news reports to guide my decision on the sale of stocks February 13,” Burr said in a statement Friday morning. “Specifically, I closely followed CNBC’s daily health and science reporting out of its Asia bureaus at the time.”
“Understanding the assumption many could make in hindsight however, I spoke this morning with the chairman of the Senate Ethics Committee and asked him to open a complete review of the matter with full transparency,” Burr added.
See what others are saying: (New York Times) (NBC) (Los Angeles Times)
House Votes To Censure Rep. Gosar, Remove Him From Committees Over AOC Video
Gosar remained defiant in remarks delivered on the floor where he defended the video and refused to apologize.
Republicans Stay Defiant Amid Censure Debate
The U.S. House of Representatives voted Wednesday to censure Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Az.) and remove him from his committees after he tweeted an anime video last week that showed him killing Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.)
The video, which has since been removed by Gosar, was a parody of the popular anime show “Attack on Titan.”
At one point in the clip, Gosar, along with Reps. Marjorie Taylor Green (R-Ga.) and Lauren Boebert (R-Co.), are seen battling and then killing a titan version of Ocasio-Cortez.
That post garnered widespread backlash, but Gosar continued to defend it and refused to apologize.
During the heated debate leading up to Wednesday’s vote, the lawmaker again expressed no regret and remained defiant.
“I rise today to address and reject the mischaracterization and accusations from many in this body that the cartoon from my office is dangerous or threatening. It was not,” he said. “I reject the false narrative categorically.”
“I do not espouse violence toward anyone. I never have. It was not my purpose to make anyone upset,” he continued. He then went on to insist the video was just a rebuke of President Joe Biden’s immigration policy and compared himself to Alexander Hamilton.
Many Republican leaders — who have largely refused to condemn the video — also defended Gosar and dismissed the post as a joke.
While some said they do not condone violence, few members of the party criticized the lawmaker. Rather, most focused their attacks on Democrats, arguing that they were abusing their power and silencing conservatives.
Democrats and Ocasio-Cortez Condemn Incitement of Violence
Democrats slammed Republicans’ continued refusal to reprimand Gosar. They said there must be consequences and that they were forced to act because his party would not.
Many also argued that they must speak out against actions that could incite the kind of violence that unfolded during the Jan. 6 insurrection. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.), for instance, described the situation as “an emergency” that amounted to “violence against women” and “workplace harassment.”
“When a member uses his or her national platform to encourage violence, tragically, people listen,” she said, adding that “depictions of violence can foment actual violence, as witnessed by this chamber on Jan. 6, 2021.”
The Speaker additionally noted that there are legal implications for Gosar’s video because it amounted to a threat against a member of Congress, which is a criminal offense.
Ocasio-Cortez echoed the sentiments expressed by Pelosi during her speech on the floor.
“What I believe is unprecedented is for a member of House leadership of either party to be unable to condemn incitement of violence against a member of this body,” she said. “It is sad. It is a sad day in which a member who leads a political party in the United States of America cannot bring themselves to say that issuing a depiction of murdering a member of Congress is wrong.”
“What is so hard about saying this is wrong?” she continued. “It’s pretty cut and dry. Does anyone in this chamber find this behavior acceptable?”
“Our work here matters. Our example matters. There is meaning in our service. And as leaders in this country, when we incite violence with depictions against our colleagues, that trickles down into violence in this country.”
Ultimately, the vast majority of House Republicans voted against the resolution to censure Gosar. Only Reps. Liz Cheney (R-Wy.) and Adam Kinzinger (R-Il.) supported the measure, which passed 223 to 207.
While removing Gosar from his committees effectively takes away a major platform for him to effect legislation, the censure is basically just a public condemnation. Still, the move is significant because it represents the first time in more than a decade that a member of the House has been censured and only the 24th instance in American history.
Gosar, for his part, appeared to be unmoved by the decision. Just an hour after the vote, the lawmaker retweeted a post praising him that also included the same video of him killing Ocasio-Cortez.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Washington Post) (NPR)
Former Trump Aide Steve Bannon Surrenders to FBI After Contempt of Congress Charges
The charges stem from Bannon’s failure to comply with a subpoena from the House panel investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection.
Bannon Faces Contempt Charges
Former White House advisor Steve Bannon surrendered to the FBI Monday morning on two contempt of Congress charges.
Bannon, who previously served as an aide to former President Donald Trump, was indicted by a federal grand jury on Friday after he defied a subpoena to testify and provide documents to the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection.
“I don’t want anybody to take their eye off the ball…We’re taking down the Biden regime every day,” he said when briefly addressing the media as he turned himself in to the FBI’s Washington, D.C. field office.
Bannon made his first court appearance Monday afternoon, though he did not make a plea and was released from custody. His arraignment is set for Thursday morning.
If convicted, each count of contempt carries a maximum of one year in prison and a fine of up to $100,000. Contempt of Congress charges are incredibly rare. According to The Washington Post, only three such charges have been brought in the last three decades.
Ongoing Legal Battle
While the proceedings against Bannon will likely be quick, they are only one part of what is shaping up to be a lengthy battle over executive privilege.
Trump has repeatedly attempted to block the Jan. 6 committee from obtaining requested documents, testimonies, and other materials under the argument that they are protected by executive privilege — which he asserts still applies to him and his former aides.
In addition to provoking a fraught legal back-and-forth over key records, the former president’s efforts have additionally prompted multiple previous top officials to refuse to comply with subpoenas.
Some top Democrats have said that Bannon’s indictment will encourage other witnesses to cooperate, but at the same time, it has reinvigorated Trump’s allies in Congress.
While some have threatened payback if Republicans take the House in 2022, others have also weaponized support of Bannon as the latest show of loyalty for Trump, effectively centering the matter as a key issue for the midterm elections.
On Saturday, Trump himself released a statement condemning all Republicans who either voted for the infrastructure bill or the contempt charges against Bannon, listing each by name and promising to back anyone who primaried them in the upcoming elections.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (NPR)
Judge Blocks Trump’s Effort To Keep Records From Jan. 6 Committee
The former president’s lawyers quickly appealed the decision, and experts have said the legal battle over the records could extend into next year.
Trump’s Attempt To Withhold Documents Rejected
A federal judge issued a ruling Tuesday rejecting former President Donald Trump’s effort to block records from being handed over to the House panel investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection.
Trump has launched numerous attempts to prevent the committee from obtaining key documents, testimonies, and other evidence lawmakers have requested, claiming the materials are protected by executive privilege.
Last month, he went as far as to file a lawsuit against the panel and the National Archives to prevent the committee from seeing those documents.
In his suit, Trump claimed that executive privilege still applied to him even though he is no longer president, and despite the fact that President Joe Biden also declined to exercise executive privilege over the records.
The former president argued that the requested information has “no reasonable connection to the events of that day” or “any conceivable legislative purpose.”
In her Tuesday ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan broadly rejected those arguments, writing that “the public interest lies in permitting […] the combined will of the legislative and executive branches to study the events that led to and occurred on January 6, and to consider legislation to prevent such events from ever occurring again.”
Chutkan additionally argued that Congress’ ability to obtain information as part of its constitutional oversight authority outweighs Trump’s remaining secrecy powers, especially because Biden agreed that investigators should see the records.
“[Trump] does not acknowledge the deference owed to the incumbent president’s judgment. His position that he may override the express will of the executive branch appears to be premised on the notion that his executive power ‘exists in perpetuity,'” she added. “But presidents are not kings, and plaintiff is not president.”
Ongoing Legal Battle
Immediately after the ruling, Trump’s lawyers appealed and moved to block the release of the records until their appeal can be heard.
According to various reports, the appeals court set an initial written briefing deadline for Dec. 27. Legal experts, however, believe the battle will likely continue into next year and will ultimately be resolved by the Supreme Court.
A drawn-out legal process will only continue to benefit Trump, whose strategy of stonewalling and stalling the investigation has so far proven effective at hindering lawmakers.
Additional delays would further aid the former president if litigation continues past the 2022 midterm elections when Republicans hope to retake the House.
In a statement on Twitter, Trump spokesman Taylor Budowich indicated that the legal fight is just now starting.
“The battle to defend Executive Privilege for Presidents past, present & future—from its outset—was destined to be decided by the Appellate Courts,” he wrote. “Pres. Trump remains committed to defending the Constitution & the Office of the Presidency, & will be seeing this process through.”