Politics

NYSE owner declines comment on coronavirus stock probe as CEO's wife Sen. Loeffler gives documents to Justice Department

Key Points
  • Intercontinental Exchange, which owns the New York Stock Exchange, refused to say whether it has given federal law enforcement agencies information related to stock sales by CEO Jeff Sprecher and his wife, Sen. Kelly Loeffler.
  • Loeffler, a Georgia Republican, gave documents to the Department of Justice and regulators about the couple's stock sales before the coronavirus outbreak rocked markets.
  • The FBI seized the cell phone of Sen. Richard Burr, a North Carolina Republican, as part of a criminal probe. Burr then stepped aside as chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Sen. Kelly Loeffler, R-Ga., her husband Jeffrey Sprecher participate in Loefflers swear-in reenactment for the cameras in the Capitol on Monday, Jan. 6, 2020.
Bill Clark | CQ-Roll Call | Getty Images

Intercontinental Exchange, which owns the New York Stock Exchange, refused to say Friday whether it has given federal law enforcement agencies information related to stock sales by CEO and Chairman Jeff Sprecher and his wife, Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler.

Intercontinental Exchange formally declined to comment after a flurry of news about a probe into stock sales in trading accounts related to four senators.

That news included Loeffler revealing that she has given documents and information to the Department of Justice, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Senate Ethics Committee about the sales from accounts she had with Sprecher.

Those sales came in the weeks before financial markets plunged as the Covid-19 pandemic spread in the United States.

Intercontinental Exchange has not said in regulatory filings that either the company or Sprecher are the subject of criminal or civil probes or have turned over information to investigators about the CEO's trades.

The FBI and Department of Justice appears to be eyeing trades by Loeffler and Sprecher, as well as by Sens. Richard Burr, R-N.C., and Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., and by the husband of Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.

Accounts connected to those senators cumulatively sold millions of dollars worth of stock in the weeks before financial markets crashed in late February as Covid-19 cases in the United States began spiking.

Starting on Jan. 24, Loeffler and Sprecher sold stocks over the next three weeks that were valued at between $1.3 million and $3.1 million, according to disclosure reports filed by the senator.

All four senators say they did nothing wrong, and that the trades were not connected to non-public information they received.

That includes private briefings for lawmakers in January and early February by top federal health officials who warned senators about the potential impact of the coronavirus outbreak before the United States began seeing large numbers of officially reported cases. 

Sprecher and Loeffler's sales began on the same day that Loeffler attended a senators-only briefing on the coronavirus.

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Members of Congress are prohibited by law from using nonpublic information obtained through their official positions in order to personally profit in the stock market.

CNBC asked Intercontinental Exchange on Thursday afternoon whether the company, which operates multiple financial exchanges, or any of its executives have had any contact with federal criminal or regulatory investigators in connection with trading by Sprecher or Loeffler.

A spokesman for the company told CNBC, in an email on Friday morning, that other than the statement Loeffler's office issued on Thursday, "ICE has no additional comment on this topic beyond the news release that we issued on March 20."

That nearly two-month-old press release said, "Mr. Sprecher and Senator Loeffler have made clear that those transactions were executed by their financial advisors without Mr. Sprecher's or Senator Loeffler's input or direction."

FBI agents on Wednesday night seized Burr's cell phone at his home in Washington, D.C., under a search warrant authorized by Attorney General William Barr. 

Burr on Feb. 13 had sold stock shares valued at between $630,000 and $1.7 million in 33 separate trades. ProPublica has reported that on the same day Burr sold his stock, his brother-in-law, Gerald Fauth, also sold tens of thousands of dollars worth of stock.

Fauth is a member of the National Mediation Board, a federal agency that helps facilitate labor relations for the transportation industry. 

Burr's attorney Alice Fisher has said that the senator "participated in the stock market based on public information," and that "he did not coordinate his decision to trade on Feb. 13 with Mr. Fauth." Burr had attended the same Jan. 24 senators-only briefing that Loeffler did.

On Thursday, Burr temporarily stepped aside as chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, saying he did not want the FBI investigation to be a distraction from the committee's work, which includes an inquiry into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

Also Thursday, Feinstein, another Intelligence Committee member, said that she had answered questions from the FBI about her husband's stock sales and had turned over documents to the FBI.

Feinstein's husband, Richard Blum, sold shares of the biotech company Allogene Therapeutics on Jan. 31 that were valued at between $500,000 and $1 million.

Loeffler initially refused to answer questions from reporters on Thursday about whether her cellphone was seized and whether she had spoken to the FBI.

Later Thursday, her Senate office issued a different statement, denying any wrongdoing. It also said she had not been served with a search warrant. But the statement did not address whether she had been in contact with federal investigators.

The New York Times then reported Thursday that a spokesman for Loeffler said, "Federal authorities had not contacted the senator."

But Loeffler's Senate office later revealed Thursday that she had in fact given the Justice Department, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Senate Ethics Committee "documents and information" about the trades by her and her husband.

The Justice Department's agencies include the FBI.

Loeffler's office, in its final statement Thursday, said that the documents and information she had turned over established "that she and her husband acted entirely appropriately and observed both the letter and the spirit of the law."

The statement reiterated Loeffler's and Sprecher's prior statement that the couple did not control or influence the trading in their managed accounts, which were handled by third-party financial advisors.

Inhofe, the Oklahoma Republican, sold shares on Jan. 27 worth between $180,000 and $400,000, according to public records.

Inhofe, like Loeffler, has said that he plays no role in the management of his investment portfolio.