Editorial: Suspicious stock sales by members of Congress might warrant prosecution

Editorial: Suspicious stock sales by members of Congress might warrant prosecution

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Dow plummets again as sell-off over the coronavirus deepens

Trader Michael Gallucci works at his post on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange on March 11. As stocks plummeted amid coronavirus fears, some members of Congress appear to have protected their portfolios with access to non-public information.

(AP Photo/Richard Drew)

America’s political leaders were slow to protect the nation from the coronavirus pandemic, but it seems some of them were much quicker to protect their own finances. New reports show several members of Congress sold off big personal stock holdings after getting official, closed-door assessments early on about how dire the situation might become — getting their money out of the market before it tanked. In one case, a senator’s portfolio changes included a timely investment in a company that offers work-from-home technology.

This merits investigation, and if any of it is shown to be what it looks like, those members should be criminally prosecuted for insider trading.

As early as January — when most Americans thought the coronavirus was an overseas problem, if they thought about it at all — members of Congress were getting private briefings from government experts about the growing threat. This included a Jan. 24 non-public briefing from the director of the Centers for Disease Control.

On that very day, a participant in that meeting, Sen. Kelly Loeffler, R-Georgia, began dumping stocks in a sell-off that would last several weeks and total between $1.2 million and $3.1 million, disclosure records would later show. Most of those stocks, like most of the stock market, dramatically lost value after Loeffler sold them.

Loeffler and her husband purchased just two stocks during that time — one of them for a tech company whose value has since risen due to its teleconferencing products, which are now in high demand as people work from home during the pandemic.

During that same few weeks, another senator who attended the briefing, Richard Burr, R-N.C., dumped between $628,000 and $1.72 million in stocks. They included holdings in several hotel companies that, because of the pandemic, have since seen their value plummet.

Burr and Loeffler both were telling the public during this time that the pandemic wasn’t going to become the health or economic threat that it’s since become. Burr, however, was more prophetic in a private talk to a social club in February, warning VIPs that it’s “much more aggressive in its transmission than anything that we have seen in recent history” and is “akin to the 1918 pandemic.” Questions have also been raised about stock dumps by Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and James Inhofe, R-Okla.

They’ve all claimed that they either had no direct role in the sales, or (in Burr’s case) relied only on publicly available information. Whether that’s true should be determined by a formal congressional probe. It’s bad enough that these and other officials weren’t telling the public of the viral locomotive they apparently knew was coming.

If there’s evidence they used their positions to get their portfolios out of its way before the rest of us, they should be socially distanced to prison cells.

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