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‘Shouldn’t Be Legal’: US Senators Accused of Selling Off Stocks after Coronavirus Briefing

© REUTERS / Lucas JacksonThe final numbers of the day are displayed above the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) stands empty as the building prepares to close indefinitely due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in New York, U.S., March 20, 2020
The final numbers of the day are displayed above the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) stands empty as the building prepares to close indefinitely due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in New York, U.S., March 20, 2020 - Sputnik International
US Senators Richard Burr (R-NC), Kelly Loeffler (R-GA), Diane Feinstein (D-CA) and Jim Inhofe (R-OK) are on the defensive following reports they illegally sold off stocks following a COVID-19 novel coronavirus briefing in January, profiting off a pandemic while their constituents face economic uncertainties and lagging leadership.

John Ross, a senior fellow of the Chongyang Institute at Renmin University of China, joined Radio Sputnik’s Political Misfits on Friday to discuss the allegations of insider trading and offer expert advice on how the administration of US President Donald Trump can lessen the inevitable death toll from the novel coronavirus in the states. 

“It shouldn’t be legal,” Ross told hosts Bob Schlehuber and Jamarl Thomas, referring to the insider trading accusations laid out in a New York Times article on the senators

If true, the allegations leveled against the lawmakers would constitute clear violations of the 2012 STOCK Act, a bill which prohibits members of Congress and congressional employees from using private information obtained through their position for personal benefit. Burr - who is now under fire for ditching 33 stocks owned by him and his spouse for a sale valued somewhere between $628,000 and $1.72 million - was one of three senators to vote against passing the bill. 

“There [are] only two cases in the United States in which there have been massive deaths on US soil: the Civil War and the so-called Spanish flu,” he said. “This is going to be the third. It’s a once-in-a-century event.” 

Ross argued that it is likely like up to hundreds of thousands of Americans will die unless the government accelerates its currently sluggish implementation of policies for prevention. As for insider trading, he argued that it’s clear that the lawmakers were looking out for their own pocketbooks. 

Just last week, Loeffler - who was sworn into office this year - asserted that “the consumer is strong, the economy is strong, jobs are growing.” Meanwhile, immediately after the January COVID-19 briefing, the Georgia senator sold off stocks valued at approximately $1.275 million to $3.1 million and also bought stock in two other companies, one of which markets teleconferencing software, according to Forbes.

In addition, Loeffler’s husband, Jeffrey Sprecher, is the chairman of the New York Stock Exchange.

“I couldn’t even care about her,” Ross said in response to her remarks. Instead, he’s more concerned about the potential death toll from the novel coronavirus. Judging by Loeffler’s mentions on Twitter, however, netizens are not taking the pressure off the freshman lawmaker. Even Fox News host Ed Henry grilled Loeffler as she attempted to address the allegations. 

When asked about reports of insider trading during Friday’s COVID-19 press briefing, Trump did not appear concerned about the issue, but ultimately expressed that his administration may possibly investigate the alleged criminal acts. 

“I find them to all be very honorable people. That’s all I know. And they said they did nothing wrong. I find them - the whole group - very honorable people,” he said. While Trump emphasized that he holds all those accused in high regard, he lashed out at a reporter who named only the Republicans accused and did not include Feinstein - despite the fact that he himself only referenced the California senator. 

Burr, Feinstein, Inhofe and Loeffler have each issued statements via social media that argue their innocence against the allegations - and netizens have responded with thousands of tweets expressing their skepticism. 

Ross said that in order for the US to recover from the novel coronavirus pandemic, the government needs to take cues from countries such as China and value human life over the economy when it comes to implementing policies and taking steps to avoid new cases of the contagious disease. 

“In order to have a mass shutdown - which is what was done in China - you’ve got to be able to supply people at home with food, money and so on. And that’s simply not being done in the United States,” he explained. If these necessities are not provided, people have no choice but to go out and risk getting infected. Considering the lack of testing in the states, some may even be unknowingly spreading the virus. 

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