Saturday, October 31, 2020

U.S. DoJ drops COVID-19 insider trading probe into 3 senators, Richard Burr awaits decision

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The Justice Department has notified lawyers for Senators Kelly Loeffler of Georgia, Dianne Feinstein of California and Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma that it will not charge the lawmakers with insider trading for stock sales they or their family members made shortly after some had attended closed-door intelligence briefings about the coronavirus crisis earlier this year, multiple news outlets have reported.

The DOJ appears to still be probing transactions executed in February by Senator Richard Burr, who stepped down as Intelligence chairman last week after it was reported in March he sold off up to $1.7m in individual stocks after he had begun receiving classified briefings about Covid-19 but weeks before global markets plummeted due to uncertainty about the disease.

A source close to Ms Feinstein confirmed other outlets’ earlier reports that the DOJ was closing its investigation into her and her husband’s investment portfolios.

Spokespersons for Ms Loeffler and Mr Inhofe could not immediately be reached for comment for this story.

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Mr Burr’s office declined to comment.

The North Carolina Republican was the only one of the four lawmakers under investigation for their stock sales to acknowledge personally executing the transactions in question.

He turned over his cell phone to investigators earlier this month.

Mr Burr told reporters on Thursday that the ongoing probe into his stock sales had become “a distraction” to the intelligence panel’s work, so he was stepping down until the investigation wraps up.

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The committee oversees the US intelligence apparatus — including the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the CIA, and the National Security Agency (NSA), among other entities — and has spent the bulk of Donald Trump’s term probing Russian interference in the 2016 election and the Obama administration’s 2016 counterintelligence efforts against it.

Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida has been elevated to chairman of the panel on an interim basis.

Mr Burr attended a closed-door, open-to-all-senators briefing for the Senate Health Committee on 24 January where infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci and Centres for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield apprised lawmakers of the latest government reports from the coronavirus outbreak in China’s Wuhan province.

As chairman of the intel panel, Mr Burr also had access to non-public reports about the coronavirus during that time, though it is unclear whether the US intelligence agencies that compiled those reports were providing information that couldn’t be cobbled together from public reporting.

On 13 February, three weeks after the initial 24 January briefing, Mr Burr sold off 33 stocks worth between $628,033 and $1.72m — his largest sell-off of assets in at least 14 months.

That sell-off included $250,000 worth of stocks in hotel companies that have seen their value plummet by more than half during the economic shutdown.

Mr Burr has said the briefings provided him no informational advantage over the public, and that he relied “solely on public news reports” to guide his decisions regarding the sale of his stocks on 13 February.

“Specifically, I closely followed CNBC’s daily health and science reporting out of its Asia bureaus at the time,” he said in March.

Ms Loeffler’s apparent exoneration could boost her chances of re-election this fall.

Appointed by GOP Governor Brian Kemp last December to replace former Senator Johnny Isakson, who was battling health issues, Ms Loeffler, a Republican, is battling GOP Congressman Doug Collins and a slate of Democratic candidates in the Peach State’s all-party special election this November. If no one captures more than 50 per cent of the vote, the top two candidates will enter a run-off.

Neither Ms Feinstein nor Mr Inhofe attended the 24 January Health Committee briefing with Mr Fauci and Mr Redfield.

In fact, Ms Feinstein did not attend any non-public briefing about the coronavirus until 12 March, a spokesman for the senator previously told The Independent.

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Ms Feinstein has held her assets in a blind trust throughout her 28-year Senate career, she has said.

Her husband, investment banker Richard Blum, controls his own account and sold off between $1.5m and $6m in stock in Allogene Therapeutics, a cancer technology company, on 13 January and 18 February. Those transactions were reported on Ms Feinstein’s mandatory first-quarter Senate financial filing, as are all assets belonging to lawmakers’ spouses.

Mr Inhofe sold up to $750,000 in assets on 13 and 27 January as part of a pre-determined programme to systematically divest from individual stocks after he was named Senate Armed Services chairman last year to avoid the appearances of a conflict of interest.

While Mr Inhofe’s assets are not held in a true blind trust, he has said he had no prior knowledge of the transactions, which were executed by his financial advisers based in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Original article on Independent

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