US Justice Department probes trades made by lawmakers after coronavirus briefings

US Senator Richard Burr sold stocks on Feb 13, 2020, with a total value between US$628,000 and US$1.7 million, according to his financial disclosure form.
US Senator Richard Burr sold stocks on Feb 13, 2020, with a total value between US$628,000 and US$1.7 million, according to his financial disclosure form.PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG) - The Justice Department is reviewing whether Senate Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr and other lawmakers made inappropriate stock trades based on non-public information before the widespread outbreak of the coronavirus in the US, according to a person familiar with the matter.

The FBI has contacted Burr, a North Carolina Republican, and is evaluating whether and when to reach out to other lawmakers, according to the person, who asked not to be identified discussing sensitive issues.

The inquiry is still in its early stages and is being conducted in coordination with the Securities and Exchange Commission, according to CNN, which reported the review earlier.

Burr sold 33 stocks on Feb 13 with a total value between US$628,000 (S$894,586) and US$1.7 million, according to his financial disclosure form. Three of the assets he sold were in hotel companies, which have seen their value plummet as the coronavirus pandemic has drastically curtailed travel.

Burr and his office said the sales were unrelated to any information he received by virtue of his position as chairman of the Intelligence panel and he has called on the Senate Ethics Committee to review the trades.

Other senators who are known to have sold assets after being briefed on the outbreak before it exploded in the US include Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat from California, Georgia Republican Kelly Loeffler and Oklahoma Republican James Inhofe. The lawmakers have defended the transactions, saying they weren't related to any information they received as part of their congressional duties.

Government watchdog groups have called for investigations into the senators, although former US officials have said there is little chance authorities could bring successful insider trading cases.