WASHINGTON — The Justice Department is investigating stock trades made by at least one member of Congress as the U.S. braced for the pandemic threat of coronavirus, according to a person familiar with the matter.
The investigation is being coordinated with the Securities and Exchange Commission, and is looking at the trades of at least one lawmaker, Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
As head of the powerful Intelligence Committee, Burr received frequent briefings and reports on the threat of the virus. He also sits on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, which received briefings on the pandemic.
In mid-February, Burr sold 33 stocks held by him and his spouse, estimated to be worth between $628,033 and $1.7 million, Senate financial disclosures show. It was the largest number of stocks he had sold in one day since at least 2016, records show.
A Justice Department spokeswoman declined to comment. The investigation was first reported by CNN.
Burr's lawyer, Alice Fisher, said in a statement that the law allows any American, including a senator, to "participate in the stock market based on public information, as Senator Burr did. When this issue arose, Senator Burr immediately asked the Senate Ethics Committee to conduct a complete review, and he will cooperate with that review as well as any other appropriate inquiry. Senator Burr welcomes a thorough review of the facts in this matter, which will establish that his actions were appropriate."
A law called the Stock Act prohibits members of Congress, their staffers and other federal officials from trading on insider information obtained from their government work. No one has been charged under the Stock Act since its passage in 2012, and some legal experts consider it a difficult statute under which to file criminal charges.
This article was written by Devlin Barrett, a reporter for The Washington Post.