A conga line of U.S. senators has now skimmed through a series of investigations by the Senate Ethics Committee and the U.S. Justice Department into allegations of insider stock trades made just before outbreaks of coronavirus caused global markets to tank.
One by one by one, their names — if not their reputations — were restored.
Probes into trades involving Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Jim Inhofe, R-Okla, were dropped quietly in May. Sen. Kelly Loeffler, R-Ga., was cleared by the Ethics Committee on Tuesday.
And just like that, there was but one senator left holding the bag for what’s come to be known as Pandemic Profiteering — the honorable Sen. Richard Burr, Republican of North Carolina and favored son of Winston-Salem.
No doubt a bumpy road lies ahead for Burr. But don’t hold your breath expecting a different outcome.
Loeffler, you might have heard, raised more of a ruckus about the dust-up than her colleagues from Oklahoma and California. Of course, that could be because she’s facing a tight re-election this year.
Her actions were examined by the U.S. Justice Department and the Ethics Committee. And like the others, she was cleared. The committee wrote that it had found “no evidence” that she had violated either the law or Senate rules.
That leaves poor Sen. Burr all by his lonesome in the dual crosshairs of the Justice Department and the Ethics Committee.
His swampiness, as far as this particular episode is concerned, emerged in March following the release of a recording in which he can be heard warning donor/check writers about the coronavirus while reassuring the rest of us schlubs that all is well.
“There’s one thing I can tell you about this: It is much more aggressive in its transmission than anything we have seen in recent history,” Burr said to a private gathering. “It’s probably more akin to the 1918 pandemic.”
Of course, as the then-chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Burr would have had the most up-to-date information on the spread of the coronavirus from China and elsewhere in the world.
No doubt it’s a bad look to tell one story to fat cats and another to regular folk. But it was compounded by the fact that he also decided to dump personal stocks in bunches — worth up to $1.72 million, in 33 separate transactions, a week before the markets tanked.
Worse still, Burr almost certainly knew that the suckers back home, otherwise known as his constituents, were bound to find out.
Congress passed in 2012 a little thing called the STOCK Act, which banned insider trading among lawmakers and required them for the first time to publicly disclose their trades online.
Anybody surprised that Burr voted against it?
Pending peer review
For years, the senator was trading stocks in companies that were subject to regulation by committees of which he was a member.
It’s all perfectly legal for members of Congress, provided they can prove they weren’t acting on insider information.
But legal and, say, moral and ethical are worlds apart. Such trades reek of conflicts of interest. Some might even call it “swampy.”
All of which brings us back to the Pandemic Profiteering. FBI agents last month did seize his cellphone after serving a search warrant
Burr, nobody’s fool, all along has had little to say and in fact, requested himself a review by his peers.
“I relied solely on public news reports to guide my decision regarding the sale of stocks on February 13,” Burr said in a statement published on Twitter.
“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.”
The fun part is, he knows damn well that proving he acted on classified information will be next to impossible and the Senate won’t eat one of its own. Maybe he gets a stern letter in the mail.
The most likely outcome is that he’ll leave office with nothing more than a vague stench of forgotten scandal wafting behind him. It’s not like he got caught with a freezer full of bribe money.
But here’s the thing, and it’s really hard to ignore — especially now.
A U.S. senator, the very definition of privilege, will almost certainly be allowed to slink off to his beach house following a federal insider trading investigation.
The system is rigged. Is it any wonder that people are seething?