The Justice Department is reportedly investigating actions by US lawmakers who dumped stocks before the market plunged over coronavirus fears

Richard Burr

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Richard Burr.

  • The Justice Department is investigating the actions of US lawmakers who dumped stocks before the market plunged amid coronavirus fears, CNN reported.
  • According to the report, the investigation is still in its early stages and the DOJ is working with the Securities and Exchange Commission on the matter.
  • As part of the probe, the FBI has reportedly reached out to North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr, who dumped up to $1.72 million in stocks before the market tanked.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

The Justice Department is investigating a series of steps US lawmakers took to dump stocks before the stock market plunged amid coronavirus fears, CNN reported on Sunday evening.

The investigation is still in its early stages, and the report said the DOJ is working with the Securities and Exchange Commission on the matter. As part of the probe, the FBI has reached out to North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr, who dumped up to $1.72 million in stocks before the market tanked.Advertisement

In a statement to CNN, Alice Fisher, a lawyer for Burr, said he "welcomes a thorough review of the facts in this matter, which will establish that his actions were appropriate."

ProPublica first published a bombshell report detailing how Burr unloaded stocks on February 13, days after reassuring the public that the Trump administration was well prepared to handle the outbreak of the novel coronavirus.

Burr is the chairman of the powerful Senate Intelligence Committee, which has access to the federal government's most classified and sensitive information. According to Reuters, Burr's committee was getting daily briefings on the threat of the coronavirus around the time he dumped his stock. But a source familiar with the matter told CNN his committee did not get a briefing the week he sold his stocks.
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In a February 7 op-ed for Fox News, Burr - along with Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee - acknowledged that "Americans are rightfully concerned about the coronavirus" at a time when the number of cases in China were still skyrocketing.

The senators added, however, that "Thankfully, the United States today is better prepared than ever before to face emerging public health threats, like the coronavirus, in large part due to the work of the Senate Health Committee, Congress, and the Trump Administration."According to Burr's financial disclosure form, he started dumping stock on February 13, six days after writing that op-ed.Advertisement

He made a total of 33 separate transactions, unloading anywhere from $1,001 to $100,000 worth of stocks in different companies.

The North Carolina Republican defended his actions the day after ProPublica's report was published, saying in a statement, "I relied solely on public news reports to guide my decision regarding the sale of stocks on February 13. Specifically, I closely followed CNBC's daily health and science reporting out of its Asia bureaus at the time."

He added: "Understanding the assumption many could make in hindsight, however, I spoke this morning with the chairman of the Senate Ethics Committee and asked him to open a complete review of the matter with full transparency."Advertisement

ProPublica's report came hours after NPR reported it had obtained a recording that features Burr raising dire concerns about the coronavirus to members of a private Washington club.

"There's one thing I can tell you about this: It is much more aggressive in its transmission than anything we have seen in recent history. It's probably more akin to the 1918 pandemic," Burr said in the recording, according to NPR.

"Every company should be cognizant of the fact that you may have to alter your travel," Burr added. "You may have to look at your employees and judge whether the trip they're making to Europe is essential or whether it could be done on video conference. Why risk it?"Advertisement

After ProPublica published its report, it surfaced that several other US senators had also dumped millions in stocks right before the markets plummeted amid fears of the coronavirus.

Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler of Georgia sold off shares after a closed-door briefing on the outbreak on January 24. Oklahoma Sen. Jim Inhofe and Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson also unloaded stocks in the weeks after the briefing.

Do you have a personal experience with the coronavirus you'd like to share? Or a tip on how your town or community is handling the pandemic? Please email covidtips@businessinsider.com and tell us your story.Advertisement

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