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21 Mar, 2020 21:19

Tulsi Gabbard says insider traders should be ‘investigated & prosecuted,’ as Left and Right team up on profiteering senators

Tulsi Gabbard says insider traders should be ‘investigated & prosecuted,’ as Left and Right team up on profiteering senators

In a rare moment of bipartisanship, commenters from all sides have demanded swift punishment for US senators who dumped stock after classified Covid-19 briefings. Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard has called for criminal prosecution.

As chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Richard Burr (R-North Carolina) has received daily briefings on the threat posed by Covid-19 since January. Burr insisted to the public that America was ready to handle the virus, but sold up to $1.5 million in stocks on February 13, less than a week before the stock market nosedived, according to Senate filings. Immediately before the sale, Burr wrote an op-ed assuring Americans that their government is “better prepared than ever” to handle the virus. 

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After the sale, NPR reported that he told a closed-door meeting of North Carolina business leaders that the virus actually posed a threat “akin to the 1918 pandemic.” Burr does not dispute the NPR report.

In a tweet on Saturday, former 2020 presidential candidate and Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard called for criminal investigations. “Congress/staff who dumped stocks after private briefings on impending coronavirus epidemic should be investigated and prosecuted for insider trading,” she wrote.

“Members of Congress should not be allowed to own stocks.”

Burr was not the only lawmaker on Capitol Hill to take precautions, it was reported. Fellow Intelligence Committee member Dianne Feinstein (D-California) and her husband sold off more than a million dollars of shares in a biotech company five days later, while Oklahoma’s Jim Inhofe (R) made a smaller sale around the same time. Both say their sales were routine.

Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-Georgia) attended a Senate Health Committee briefing on the outbreak on January 24. The very same day, she began offloading stock, dropping between $1.2 and $3.1 million in shares over the following weeks. The companies whose stock she sold included airlines, retail outlets, and Chinese tech firm Tencent.

She did, however, invest in cloud technology company Oracle, and Citrix, a teleworking company whose value has increased by nearly a third last week, as social distancing measures forced more and more Americans to work from home. All of Loeffler’s transactions were made with her husband, Jeff Sprecher, CEO of the New York Stock Exchange.

Meanwhile, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (New York) and Ilhan Omar (Minnesota) have joined the clamor of voices demanding punishment. Ocasio-Cortez described the sales as “stomach churning,” while Omar reached across the aisle to side with Fox News’ Tucker Carlson in calling for Burr’s resignation.

“For a public servant it’s pretty hard to imagine many things more immoral than doing this,” Carlson said during a Friday night monolog. “Richard Burr had critical information that might have helped the people he is sworn to protect. But he hid that information and helped only himself.”

As of Saturday, there are nearly 25,000 cases of Covid-19 in the US, with the death toll heading towards 300. Now both sides of the political aisle seem united in disgust at the apparent profiteering of Burr, Loeffler, and Feinstein. 

Right-wing news outlet Breitbart savaged Burr for voting against the STOCK Act in 2012, a piece of legislation that would have barred members of Congress from using non-public information to profit on the stock market. At the same time, a host of Democratic figures - including former presidential candidates Andrew Yang and Kirsten Gillibrand - weighed in with their own criticism too.

“If you find out about a nation-threatening pandemic and your first move is to adjust your stock portfolio you should probably not be in a job that serves the public interest,” Yang tweeted on Friday.

Watchdog group Common Cause has filed complaints with the Justice Department, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Senate Ethics Committee “calling for immediate investigations” of Burr, Loeffler, Feinstein and Inhofe “for possible violations of the STOCK Act and insider trading laws.”

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