Senators under fire over virus ‘insider trading’

Richard Burr and Kelly LoefflerImage copyright
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Richard Burr is chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee while Kelly Loeffler sits on the Senate Health Committee

Two US Republican Senators are facing calls to resign over allegations they used insider knowledge to sell shares before prices fell due to coronavirus fears.

Richard Burr reportedly dumped up to $1.7m (£1.45m) of stocks last month.

Kelly Loeffler is reported to have sold holdings worth up to $3m in a series of transactions beginning the same day as a Senate briefing on the virus.

Both Senators have denied any impropriety.

Under US law, it is illegal for members of Congress to trade based on non-public information gathered during their official duties.

Mr Burr, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, has also come under fire after US outlet NPR obtained a recording of him warning a group of wealthy constituents last month about the dire economic impact of the coronavirus, at a time when the Trump administration was publicly downplaying the threat. He also told the group to curtail their travel.

In response, Mr Burr has accused NPR of “misrepresenting” his speech.

The latest revelations come after an investigation by ProPublica into his financial filings.

As chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Mr Burr receives nearly daily briefings on threats to US national security,

On 7 February, shortly after the first case of coronavirus was reported, Mr Burr wrote on Fox News that the US government was “better prepared than ever” to tackle an outbreak.

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Media captionCoronavirus: Trump blames media for virus spread

But a week later, when President Donald Trump assured the public that the virus would not hit America hard, Mr Burr and his wife sold at least $628,000 and as much as $1.72 million in stocks. Two weeks after that, he gave the speech obtained by NPR.

Among those calling for his resignation and investigation are Fox News host Tucker Carlson, who has historically been a vocal supporter of the Trump administration.

Separately, an investigation by The Daily Beast found Mrs Loeffler, who sits on the Senate Health Committee, and her husband sold millions of dollars in stocks, beginning the day her Senate committee hosted a private, all-senators briefing on coronavirus by administration officials.

In the weeks after the sale, she sought to downplay the virus’ impact on the economy and public health in a series of tweets.

“Democrats have dangerously and intentionally misled the American people on #Coronavirus readiness,” she tweeted on 28 February.

“Here’s the truth: @realDonaldTrump & his administration are doing a great job working to keep Americans healthy & safe.”

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Mrs Loefller has called The Daily Beasts investigation a “ridiculous and baseless attack”. In a statement said added that decisions about her investments were made by “multiple third party advisors without [her or her husband’s] knowledge or consent.”

The news has fuelled allegations that the US leadership knew the threat of coronavirus was serious, but delayed action that could have stemmed the outbreak.

More than 14,000 cases of coronavirus have been reported in the US, along with 205 virus-related deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.

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