Politics

DOJ still investigating coronavirus stock sales by Sen. Burr, but drops probes of Loeffler, Inhofe, Feinstein

Key Points
  • Federal prosecutors are still investigating stock sales by Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina in advance of a coronavirus-fueled share price plunge.
  • But they are dropping investigations of such sales connected to three other senators: Kelly Loeffler, Jim Inhofe and Dianne Feinstein.
  • Aides for Loeffler, R-Ga., Inhofe, R-Okla., and Feinstein, a California Democrat, confirmed to NBC News that the Department of Justice is no longer probing stock sales related to them.
VIDEO0:5400:54
Prosecutors to close insider trading investigations into Sens. Loeffler, Inhofe, Feinstein: DJ

Federal prosecutors are still investigating stock sales by Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina in advance of a coronavirus-fueled share price plunge, but are dropping investigations of such sales connected to three other senators: Kelly Loeffler, Jim Inhofe and Dianne Feinstein.

Aides for Loeffler, R-Ga., Inhofe, R-Okla., and Feinstein, a California Democrat, confirmed to NBC News that the Department of Justice is no longer probing stock sales related to them. The Wall Street Journal first reported the development.

The FBI earlier this month seized Burr's cellphone at his home in Washington, D.C., as part of an ongoing criminal investigation.

The next day Burr, a Republican, stepped aside as chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Burr and the other three senators have denied any wrongdoing in the selling of shares from either their own or spouse's accounts worth cumulatively millions of dollars in the weeks before stock prices collapsed as the Covid-19 pandemic began spreading rapidly in the United States. 

Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) leaves the U.S. Capitol after voting in Washington, U.S., May 14, 2020.
Erin Scott | Reuters

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.

The Department of Justice, as well as a spokesman for Burr and the senator's lawyer, Alice Fisher, declined to comment when asked by CNBC about the Journal's report. 

Burr on Feb. 13 sold stocks valued at between $630,000 and $1.7 million in 33 separate trades.

ProPublica has reported that on Feb. 13, the same day Burr that sold his stock, his brother-in-law Gerald Fauth also sold tens of thousands of dollars worth of shares.

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

Fisher previously has said that Burr "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."

Loeffler's spokesman, Stephen Lawson, said in a statement, "Today's clear exoneration by the Department of Justice affirms what Senator Loeffler has said all along – she did nothing wrong."

"This was a politically-motivated attack shamelessly promoted by the fake news media and her political opponents. Senator Loeffler will continue to focus her full attention on delivering results for Georgians," Lawson said.

Loeffler only took her seat in the Senate in early January. She was appointed to the seat by Republican Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp to succeed Sen. Johnny Isakson, who resigned for health reasons.

Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-GA) participates during the Senate Committee for Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions hearing to examine COVID-19 and Safely Getting Back to Work and Back to School on May 12, 2020 in Washington, DC.
Win McNamee | POOL | Getty Images

Loeffler is running for election in her own right this year, but faces nearly two dozen challengers, including Rep. Doug Collins, a fellow Republican whom President Donald Trump had wanted to fill Isakson's seat.

Loeffler's husband, Jeffrey Sprecher, is CEO of Intercontinental Exchange, the company that operates the New York Stock Exchange, among other financial marketplaces.

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

The couple's sell-off began on the same day that Loeffler attended a senators-only briefing on the coronavirus.

The couple has said that the sales were handled without any input from them at the direction of third-party financial advisors.

Loeffler in mid-May revealed that she gave documents and information related to the sales to the Department of Justice, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Senate Ethics Committee.

Loeffler's office, in a statement on May 14, 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."

A spokesman for Intercontinental Exchange, known as ICE, declined to comment Tuesday about the Journal's report.

A Democratic aide told NBC News that Feinstein was informed the Department of Justice is dropping a probe into stock trades made by her husband in the wake of coronavirus briefings.

 Feinstein previously said that she had answered questions from the FBI about her husband's stock sales and had turned over documents to the FBI.

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

Inhofe's office confirmed the DOJ had dropped the investigation of his stock sales, of shares then valued at between $180,000 and $400,000, days after a Jan. 24 briefing for senators where lawmakers were informed about the risk of Covid-19 to the United States.

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

Infhofe himself told The Oklahoman newspaper on Tuesday that he was cleared by the DOJ, and noted that he had not attended the Jan. 24 "briefing and do not make my own stock trades."

"I did nothing wrong, and I'm pleased the Justice Department has exonerated me," Inhofe said.

-- Additional reporting by Ryan Ruggiero.