It sure feels that way now. As the outbreak explodes, markets crash, tens of millions hunker down and millions are in danger of losing their livelihoods, we learn that several senators, after receiving private information about the virus from administration officials in January and February, dumped their stocks before the crash — even as some of them played down the virus just as Trump did.
The revolting tale begins with Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), who dumped stock worth as much as $1.72 million on Feb. 13, the Center for Responsive Politics discovered — a day after senators were scheduled for a private briefing on the virus with administration officials, following a similar private briefing on Jan. 24.
Six days before the sale, Burr co-wrote an op-ed for Fox News saying “the United States today is better prepared than ever before to face emerging public health threats, like the coronavirus.” Two weeks after he sold his shares, Burr privately told a well-heeled audience at the National Republican Club of Capitol Hill, also known as the Capitol Hill Club, that the virus could be like the horrific 1918 flu pandemic, according to a recording obtained by NPR.
Others also sold investments after the administration privately briefed senators but before the administration acknowledged publicly how bad things were. Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.) and her husband, the chairman of the New York Stock Exchange, sold off as much as $3.1 million, even though she later tweeted upbeat messages about “Coronavirus readiness.” Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and her investment-banker husband sold up to $6 million of a biotech company’s shares, Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) sold as much as $400,000 in shares, Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) traded heavily, and Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) sold a stake in his family business worth as much as $25 million.
Explanations vary: Burr acknowledged his trading could look bad “in hindsight” and requested an Ethics Committee review, Johnson said the sale had been long planned, and the others said they were unaware of the trades, which were handled by investment advisers or spouses.
Regardless, it stinks. While Trump gave the public false assurances, secretly-briefed lawmakers, or those representing their interests, dumped investments before a market panic.
It’s bad enough that the public was misled and that even now the Trump administration muzzles the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and hides information about testing, the availability of ventilators and whether or not he’s using the Defense Production Act for urgently needed medical supplies. It’s appalling that the well-connected got better information and that the rich and famous got tests while others couldn’t. No doubt they’ll have priority for ventilators, too.
Now Senate Republicans are working to lard a stimulus bill with corporate tax cuts and bailouts for airlines (including those refusing to refund many tickets even as the government tells Americans not to travel) and hotels. Will Trump’s hotels be included?
On the New York Times homepage Friday, just below the headline about Burr’s stock sales, another headline announced: “Coronavirus and Poverty: A Mother Skips Meals So Her Children Can Eat.”
Perhaps that’s the story of life.
I had a real-time glimpse into how senators were treated to inside information by the administration while the public was given happy talk about the virus. Johnson, chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, held a public roundtable about the coronavirus on Feb. 12 — and administration officials didn’t show up. “I’m disappointed we don’t have a representative of HHS, or DHS, CDC here,” Johnson said that morning. “I thought I had them convinced to come, but apparently they’re doing an all-Senate briefing at 11:30.”
Johnson gave the public an upbeat assessment: “It’s looking to me a little bit more like H1N1, maybe more contagious, maybe not as virulent,” he said, referring to the milder-than-expected 2009 pandemic.
Those who listened to the non-government experts that morning (the same week Trump said the virus “miraculously goes away” in April) heard alarming — and accurate — predictions about the virus spreading to hundreds of thousands of Americans.
It would have had a lot more impact if Trump administration officials had been the ones sounding the warning. Instead, the administration offered to brief senators in private.
The stock market set a record high that day. The next day, Burr dumped stock, including hotel stock. The day after that, Loeffler bought stock in Citrix, which provides teleconferencing. Meanwhile, the greater public remained unaware of, and unprepared for, the looming catastrophe.
Now Trump says unfairness is the story of life. Maybe that’s why we’re living this nightmare.
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