The Justice Department has notified Sens. Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.), James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) that it has closed insider trading investigations of their stock sales before the coronavirus pandemic crashed global markets, according to people familiar with the investigation.
Loeffler’s office and aides to Feinstein and Inhofe confirmed the three senators were informed Tuesday afternoon that Justice has ended an inquiry into their stock trades and are not targets for further investigation.
Burr spokeswoman Caitlin Carroll declined to comment.
Aides to Feinstein and Loeffler previously acknowledged that the senators had been in contact with federal law enforcement and denied any impropriety. Feinstein had been questioned by FBI agents about stock sales, which she has said were done by her husband and without her knowledge, a spokesperson said. Loeffler’s office acknowledged that she had turned over documents related to stock sales she said she did not actively participate in.
The ongoing investigation of Burr comes as he has fallen out of favor with President Trump and his allies over Burr’s handling of the committee’s sweeping, years-long investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election.
Earlier this month, a person familiar with the probe of Burr and other senators said investigators are examining the timing of Burr’s trades and any communications concerning stock sales that he may have had with his brother-in-law and others. This person cautioned, however, that there are significant legal hurdles to bringing charges in such cases, particularly the Constitution’s “speech or debate” clause, which covers many of the activities of members of Congress.
Legal experts say any case against a sitting lawmaker will have significant challenges, because of prior legal rulings that bar prosecutors from admitting evidence related to a lawmaker’s official actions, such as statements by Burr about what and when he knew about the pandemic threat.
Tom Mentzer, a spokesman for Feinstein, said earlier this month that the senator in April was “asked some basic questions by law enforcement about her husband’s stock transactions.” The spokesman said Feinstein “was happy to voluntarily answer those questions to set the record straight and provided additional documents to show she had no involvement in her husband’s transactions.”
Disclosure records show Feinstein and her husband sold between $1.5 million and $6 million worth of stock between Jan. 31 and Feb. 18.
A spokeswoman for Loeffler said she had provided documents and information to the Justice Department, Securities and Exchange Commission, and Senate Ethics Committee “establishing that she and her husband acted entirely appropriately and observed both the letter and the spirit of the law.”
“Today’s clear exoneration by the Department of Justice affirms what Senator Loeffler has said all along — she did nothing wrong,” spokesman Stephen Lawson said.
The SEC was aware of Tuesday’s actions by the Justice Department, a person familiar with the matter said, but the status of its inquiry was unclear.
The Justice Department since March has been investigating the Burr stock trades. The inquiry followed a review of public disclosures, first reported by the Center for Responsive Politics and ProPublica, that showed Burr and his wife sold 33 stocks worth between $628,033 and $1.72 million — including many in sectors hit hard by the pandemic, such as the hotel, restaurant and shipping industries. The Senate Intelligence Committee received numerous coronavirus briefings in the weeks leading up to the February sell-off, according to people familiar with the investigation. Burr’s brother-in-law also sold significant shares in February, ProPublica has reported.
From late February through mid-March, the stock market experienced steep declines as the coronavirus reached the United States and states began implementing stay-at-home orders that hampered or shut down large segments of the American economy.