Mr Burr was one of five senators known to have been investigated by the Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission for possible insider trading around the start of the pandemic in the United States . Senators Kelly Loeffler, Republican of Georgia; James Inhofe, Republican of Oklahoma; and Dianne Feinstein, Democrat from California, were all eliminated in May. An investigation of Georgia Republican Senator David Perdue has broadened to include transactions worth more than $ 1 million at a financial company, where he previously served on the board of directors, before his closing in August.
Mr. Burr’s has been open for months longer.
While he does not dispute that he sold much of his portfolio for fear of the spread of the pandemic, he insisted his transactions were based entirely on information reported by financial news organizations in Asia, and not on special briefings he had received as a senator.
Insider trading cases – especially those involving lawmakers – are notoriously difficult to prove. Lawmakers, like any other citizen, are empowered to make investment decisions based on public information. Under the Stock Law of 2012, they are prohibited from making decisions based on specific, non-public information to which they have access as senators.
The challenge for investigators is to shield the public from non-public information with enough confidence to prove that a lawmaker like Mr Burr has acted with an unfair advantage over other investors. This is made even more difficult by the speech or debate clause of the Constitution, which gives members of Congress unusual protections against investigators.
In this case, Mr Burr’s sales came just days after a series of briefings he received as a member of the Senate Intelligence and Health Committees in late January and early February focused on the threat of the coronavirus. At the time, Mr. Trump and members of his party were playing down the viral threat, and although it had spread widely in Asia, the pandemic had not yet affected American life or its financial markets much.
Mr Burr, who had long focused his attention on public health and warned of the threat of a pandemic, clearly took it more seriously. On February 13, he sold 33 shares, with a collective value of $ 628,000 to $ 1.7 million, a significant portion of his portfolio.
The timing allowed him to avoid losses suffered by other investors when the stock market contracted sharply in February and March. Financial markets have since recovered and reached record levels.
There were other charges for Mr. Burr along the way. He remained on the sidelines, for example, when the Intelligence Committee delivered the final results of its multi-year investigation into 2016 Russian election interference and ties to the Trump campaign this summer. He had overseen the politically sensitive investigation from the start, working closely with the panel’s lead Democrat, Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, in the face of strong objections from President Trump, earning the respect of his colleagues on both sides.