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Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said Saturday that there should be ethics probes into the pre-coronavirus stock sales by Sens. Richard Burr, Dianne Feinstein and others, warning of an “appearance” of a conflict of interest.
Schumer, D-N.Y., called for the investigations on MSNBC Saturday after Burr, R-N.C., Feinstein, D-Calif., as well as Sens. James Inhofe, R-Okla., and Kelly Loeffler, R-Ga., were hit with allegations of selling large amounts of stocks before the coronavirus crisis rocked Wall Street.
“The answer, in one word, is yes. There should be and there will be,” Schumer said on MSNBC. “I don’t own any stocks. I think it’s a very bad idea for senators to own stocks.”
He added: “There is either a conflict or an appearance of conflict, and one of the things we need with the public is some degree of trust. It’s pretty low right now.”
Schumer said lawmakers who own stocks and “benefit from something that no one else can” diminish public trust in government.
“It’s just, the American people have even less faith in government, and, at a time like this, the American people need to have faith,” Schumer said.
Schumer’s calls for an ethics probe come after Burr himself requested an ethics review into his own conduct after it emerged that he dumped hundreds of thousands of dollars in stocks in the run-up to the COVID-19 crisis.
“I relied solely on public news reports to guide my decision regarding the sale of stocks on February 13,” Burr said in a statement Friday. “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.”
Burr, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, used more than 30 transactions to dump between $628,000 and $1.72 million on Feb. 13, according to ProPublica.
Meanwhile, Feinstein, who is the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, and her husband reportedly sold between $1.5 million and $6 million in stock in California biotech company Allogene Therapeutics, between Jan. 31 and Feb. 18, The New York Times reported.
A spokesman for Feinstein, Tom Mentzer, denied any wrongdoing, saying that “all of Senator Feinstein’s assets are in a blind trust,” and that “she has no involvement in her husband’s financial decisions.”
But Sen. Kelly Loefller, and her husband, Jeffrey Sprecher, chairman of the New York Stock Exchange, sold stock on Jan. 24—the same day she sat in on a briefing from two members of President Trump’s Coronavirus Task Force, according to a Daily Beast report.
Between that day and Feb. 14, the couple sold stock worth a total between $1.2 million and $3.1 million, the report said. In addition to the sales, they also purchased stock in a maker of software that helps people work at home – just before millions of Americans were forced to leave their offices because of the outbreak, the report said.
Loeffler, though, fired back Friday, denying the allegations and saying they are "absolutely false.”
"If you actually look at the personal transaction reports that were filed, it notices at the bottom that I'm only informed of my transactions after they occur -- several weeks," Loeffler explained on Fox News' "America's Newsroom.”
"So, certainly, those transactions -- at least on my behalf -- were a mix of buys and sells. Very routine for my portfolio," she continued.
Meanwhile, Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., sold as much as $400,000 in stock all on Jan. 27, in companies such as PayPal, Apple and real estate company Brookfield Asset Management, The New York Times reported.
But Inhofe pushed back in a statement by saying he was not at a late January briefing and, further, does not have involvement in investment choices.
“The New York Times allegations are completely baseless and 100 percent false. I was not at the briefing on January 24. I was meeting with pro-life kids from Oklahoma here for the March for Life and the new nominee to be U.S. Ambassador to Tanzania,” Inhofe said in a statement. “I do not have any involvement in my investment decisions. In December 2018, shortly after becoming chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, I instructed my financial advisor to move me out of all stocks and into mutual funds to avoid any appearance of controversy. My advisor has been doing so faithfully since that time and I am not aware of or consulted about any transactions.”
If allegations against the senators are true, that they used inside congressional information to benefit their stock portfolios, they could have violated the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act, also known as the STOCK Act, passed in 2012, which makes it illegal for members of Congress to engage in insider trading.
When asked whether an ethics investigation would take place, a source close to Senate Republican Leadership referred Fox News to the Ethics Committee.
The Senate Ethics Committee did not immediately respond to Fox News’ request for comment on whether the panel would initiate an investigation into the senators’ alleged conduct.
The Dow Industrial Average plummeted this week amid the COVID-19 pandemic, dropping at one point below 20,000 wiping out all Trump-era gains. By Friday morning, the Dow had reclaimed the 20,000 mark. But by the end of the day Friday, the Dow was back in the 19,000 range.