- 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)
Trump Issues Over 140 Pardons and Commutations Ahead of Biden’s Inauguration
- In his last moments in office, now-former President Donald Trump granted clemency to more than 140 people at 1 a.m. Wednesday morning.
- Among the notable pardons and commutations were rappers Lil Wayne and Kodak Black, former Trump adviser Steve Bannon, and Trump megadonor Elliott Broidy.
- Trump’s final round of clemency did include several nonviolent drug offenders whose requests had been supported by criminal justice reform advocates.
- Still, many also condemned Trump for overlooking people wronged by the justice system or those who have been rehabilitated. Instead, critics feel he was focused on giving out political favors to his allies.
Trump Grants Clemency
Former President Donald Trump issued more than 140 pardons and commutations at 1 a.m. Wednesday morning, just hours ahead of President Joe Biden’s inauguration.
The move marks Trump’s final major act before the end of his term. Many of the most notable pardons and commutations were given to people whose names had been circulating in reports earlier this week, including rappers Lil Wayne and Kodak Black, as well as former adviser Steve Bannon.
Bannon’s pardon is especially significant because he has not yet stood trial for the charges he faces. The charges against Trump’s former right-hand man center around allegations that he defrauded half a million people who donated to a crowdsourcing campaign to fund the construction of the border wall.
The leaders of the charity, aptly named We Build the Wall, had claimed that the more than $25 million they had solicited in donations would go to their goal, but prosecutors claim that Bannon took $1 million for his own personal expenses.
Bannon’s pardon is also significant because, according to reports, the reason the clemency announcements were late was because Trump could not decide whether or not to pardon him. However, as The Washington Post notes, Trump’s ultimate decision “underscores how Trump has used his presidential power to benefit allies and political backers.”
Trump has recently granted pardons to several of his former top aides, many of whom seem to have a knack for committing crimes for him.
At the end of last year, he pardoned his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, his former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, and his close friend and adviser, Roger Stone. All three had been convicted of crimes during the probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
In this newest batch of clemency grants, the former president also pardoned Elliott Broidy, a top Trump campaign fundraiser. Broidy pleaded guilty last year to conspiring to violate foreign lobbying laws and accepting millions of dollars as part of a secret campaign to lobby the administration for Malaysian and Chinese interests.
Trump additionally pardoned a number of politicians who have been indicted for corruption, including three former Republican members of Congress and one former Democratic mayor.
Those Left Out
Trump’s last round of pardons and commutations did include several nonviolent drug offenders whose requests had been supported by criminal justice reformers. One of those individuals was Chris Young, a man who had been sentenced to life for drug conspiracy, and whose commutation Kim Kardashian West had lobbied.
But in general, Trump has largely been condemned by criminal justice advocates for overlooking people wronged by the justice system or those who have rehabilitated. Instead, they feel he was focused on giving out political favors to his allies.
Despite the attention some of his pardons have received, either because they had celebrity power behind them or were controversial, Trump has actually approved fewer clemency requests than most previous presidents who served one term or less. Until this week, he had only granted clemency to 95 people.
Also of note are the controversial pardons that Trump was reportedly considering but ultimately decided against. These included WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, and “Tiger King” star Joe Exotic, the latter of whom was so sure he would be pardoned that he had a limo waiting for him outside his prison.
Trump was also reportedly considering preemptively pardoning himself and his children, but he apparently decided against the move. In addition to a self-pardon being questionably unconstitutional, any clemency for the former president and his family would require them to admit they committed crimes they have not yet been charged with.
While Trump decided against becoming the first president to ever pardon himself, the fact that he decided to give clemency to so many of his allies might pose some issues.
President Bill Clinton faced both congressional and criminal investigations for giving out 140 pardons and commutations on his final day in office in 2001, though notably, no wrongdoing was ultimately found.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (CNN)
GOP Rep. Lauren Boebert Accused of Leading Capitol Tour Before Insurrection
- Rep. Steve Cohen told CNN Monday that he and another lawmaker personally saw GOP Rep. Lauren Boebert guiding a “large” group of people around the Capitol days before the insurrection.
- Numerous representatives have said they saw GOP members leading an unusual amount of tours before the riots. They also said some of the visitors were involved with the rally that preceded the attack.
- Boebert preemptively denied giving tours to insurrectionists last week before any official accused her by name.
- She reiterated that denial in a statement responding to Cohen’s accusations and claimed that she had only ever given a tour to members of her family.
Rep. Cohen’s Claims
Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tn.) said Monday that he and a fellow Democratic member of Congress personally witnessed Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Co.) leading a “large” group of people around the Capitol complex in the days before the violent attacks on Jan. 6.
While speaking on CNN, Cohen said that he and Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Ky.) “saw Boebert taking a group of people for a tour sometime after the 3rd and before the 6th.”
“I don’t remember the day we were walking in a tunnel and we saw her and commented who she was and she had a large group with her,” he continued. “Now whether these people were people that were involved in the insurrection or not, I do not know.”
Notably, Cohen said he did not know who was in the group or if they were part of the attack. That fact was also echoed by Yarmuth, who confirmed in a statement that he did see Boebert with a group of people around her but added that he “has no knowledge of who they were or if they were with her.”
Over the last few weeks, dozens of Democrats have been demanding that officials investigate whether or not Republican lawmakers aided in the riots. Last Tuesday, Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-NJ) told reporters she saw some of her GOP colleagues leading “reconnaissance” tours of the Capitol with people who she later saw during the riots.
The following day, 31 House Democrats signed a letter claiming they and some of their staffers “witnessed an extremely high number of outside groups” visiting the Capitol on Jan. 5.
“The visitors encountered by some of the Members of Congress on this letter appeared to be associated with the rally at the White House the following day,” they wrote. “Members of the group that attacked the Capitol seemed to have an unusually detailed knowledge of the layout of the Capitol Complex.”
Boebert’s Checkered Record
Until Monday, no lawmakers had named any of the members involved in the alleged tours, but many outlets and political analysts both implicitly and explicitly tied Boebert to the accusations.
In her roughly two-week-long tenure as a member of Congress, the young Republican has received significant heat for her role in the insurrection among other recent, controversial moves.
Last week, Boebert was temporarily banned from Twitter and faced numerous calls to resign for tweeting out House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s location during the insurrection.
She has also been widely criticized for publicly announcing she would bring her gun to the Capitol complex, refusing to have her bag searched after she set off a metal detector, and voting to invalidate millions of votes by objecting to the certification of the electoral college.
In fact, Boebert has faced so much scrutiny that she preemptively denied giving tours to insurrectionists last week, even before anyone directly named her. At the time, she issued a statement saying she has only ever given a tour to her children, husband, mother, aunt, and uncle.
Boebert reiterated those claims in a letter to Cohen Monday, where she called his remarks “categorically false.”
“I have never given a tour of the U.S. Capitol to any outside group,” she wrote. “As I previously stated, I brought my family to the Capitol on January 2nd for a tour and on the 3rd for pictures to commemorate the day I was sworn in as a Member of the U.S. Congress.”
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (CNN) (CPR News)
Washington, D.C. Ramps Up Security Before Inauguration
- Officials in Washington are ramping up security measures and imposing heavy restrictions ahead of the inauguration Wednesday.
- The National Mall has been closed down since Friday, barricades have been put up all over the city, car traffic has been limited, and many public transit routes have also been shut down.
- Around 25,000 National Guard troops have been deployed from across the country, and the FBI is vetting all of them due to concerns of an insider attack.
- Security has also been significantly increased in many state capitals nationwide following calls for armed protests in all 50 states, but so far, most of the protests at statehouses have been peaceful and exceptionally small.
Capitol Increases Security Measures
With two days to go until the inauguration, security has been massively ramped up in the nation’s Capitol.
While the inauguration is usually a high-security event, Washington has now instituted security measures not seen since the Civil War following a Jan. 6 insurrection attempt on the U.S. Capitol. Intelligence agencies have since warned about more threats of violence.
In an unprecedented move, the National Park Service announced Friday that the National Mall — which usually hosts massive crowds during the inauguration — will be closed until at least Thursday. The inaugural ceremony itself will also be scaled down due to both security threats and the pandemic.
Various barricades ranging from small metal barriers to tall fencing reinforced with heavy concrete blocks have been set up around the Mall and in other parts of the city, such as at federal buildings and businesses.
The Capitol complex itself, which will be entirely shut off to the public on Wednesday, is currently surrounded by a 7-foot fence topped with razor wire.
Over a dozen metro lines will be shut down and more than two dozen bus routes will be detoured around the security perimeter. Car traffic in most of the city will be either banned entirely or limited exclusively to residents and businesses only. Several bridges that connect DC to Virginia will also be shut down, and all street closures are subject to change or to be extended at the discretion of the Secret Service.
In addition to the wide variety of military and law enforcement personnel who are normally involved in inauguration security, around 25,000 National Guard troops have also been deployed from all across the country.
That is nearly two and a half times the number present for previous inaugurations. Notably, officials have been vetting all 25,000 coming to Washington because they are worried about an insider attack.
States Ramp Up Security
It is not just D.C. that is ramping up security. There have been mass deployments of the National Guard and other law enforcement officers to state Capitols all across the country. According to The New York Times, 19 states have deployed their National Guards following calls for armed protests in all 50 states.
So far, most of the activity that has been seen around statehouses are small, peaceful demonstrations by a few people, some of whom are armed. Even the most attended rallies had two dozen people or less.
Notably, all of the largest demonstrations documented so far have reportedly been held by or included members of the Boogaloo Boys, a far-right group that wants to start a second Civil War. The group showed up in some of the highest numbers in front of the Capitol buildings in Ohio, Michigan, and Utah.
As was the case with all of the other demonstrations so far, the protestors have been far outnumbered by security officials — and in some cases, spectators.