Sen. Loeffler, New York Stock Exchange CEO husband defend stock sales after her coronavirus briefing

On Thursday night, multiple reports revealed that in addition to Loeffler, the GOP senators Richard Burr of North Carolina and Oklahoma’s James Inhofe, along with California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, had dumped stock shares worth close to up to $10 million in the weeks after the private briefing

Those sales, which sparked outrage among some lawmakers and others when they came to light late Thursday, occurred before a sharp drop in the stock market indices in recent weeks as the coronavirus pandemic spread and wreaked havoc on the U.S. economy.

Loeffler, during an interview with CNBC on the heels of Intercontinental Exchange’s statement, said, “I had no involvement in the decisions” to trade the stocks.

She said those decisions were made without any input by herself or her husband by third-party investment advisors, whom she did not identify by name after being asked to do so.

“We have no knowledge of these companies” whose stocks were sold and bought,” Loeffler said. “I have no discretion over … our portfolio.”

She said the trades were a mix of buys and sales, and that some of the trades were “quite bullish.”

“I am very confident that we have followed the letter and spirit of the law,” Loeffler said.

In its statement, Intercontinental Exchange said, “Mr. Sprecher and Senator Loeffler have made clear that those transactions were executed by their financial advisors without Mr. Sprecher’s or Senator Loeffler’s input or direction,”

“Such transactions are in compliance with Intercontinental Exchange, Inc. policies and procedures,” the company said.

“These were not transactions in ICE securities, and any transactions by Mr. Sprecher or Senator Loeffler in ICE securities have been executed through a Rule 10b5-1 trading plan that was approved by Intercontinental Exchange,” the firm said.

“Per ICE policy, all trading plans require a 30-day cooling off period from the time the trading plan is adopted to the date of the first transaction.”

Loeffler disclosed a string of stock sales that began on Jan. 24, the same day her Senate committee hosted the closed-doors briefing about the spread of the new coronavirus by Trump administration officials. 

Over the next three weeks, Loeffler and Sprecher sold shares worth between $1.25 million and $3.1 million, according to  disclosure records.

But on Feb. 14, accounts owned by Loeffler and Sprecher bought stock in Citrix, which provides teleworking software, and in the Oracle, the technology company. Many Americans have had to work remotely as companies closed or reduced staff at their physical locations due to coronavirus.

Loeffler’s transactions were first reported Thursday by The Daily Beast. Loeffler’s spokeswoman on Thursday called the Daily Beast story “a ridiculous and baseless attack.”

Despite the statements by Loeffler and Intercontinental, the controversy over the stock sales by her and the other senators is not likely to go away anytime soon.

The federal Securities and Exchange Commission had no immediate comment when contacted by CNBC.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-NY, called on Burr and Loeffler to resign, writing on Twitter, “It is stomach-churning that the first thoughts these Senators had to a dire & classified #COVID briefing was how to profit off this crisis.”

“They didn’t mobilize to help families, or prep response. They dumped stock,” Ocasio-Cortez wrote.

The good government advocacy group CREW on Friday filed a Senate Ethics Committee complain against Loeffler and Burr for possible violations of the STOCK Act, which bars members of Congress from using inside information gained from their official positions for private gain.

“The job of a US Senator is to serve the American people,” said CREW Executive Director Noah Bookbinder.

“It appears that in a time of crisis, these senators chose instead to serve themselves, violating the public trust and abdicating their duty. They must be immediately investigated.”

In a statement Friday, Burr said his decision to off-load his stock was based “solely on public news reports,” including those from CNBC about the spread of coronavirus.

“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,” Burr said.

On Feb. 13, one week before U.S. stocks began sliding, Burr sold more than half a million dollars worth of shares in a single day. The sales amounted to 33 individual transactions, and if they totaled the high end of the range that Burr reported, around $1.7 million, that would equal nearly all of his net worths.

Burr’s trades were first reported by ProPublica.

North Carolina’s other U.S. senator, Thom Tillis, who like Burr is a Republican, said on Twitter that, “Given the circumstances, Senator Burr owes North Carolinians an explanation.”

“His self-referral to the Ethics Committee for their review is appropriate, there needs to be a professional and bipartisan inquiry into this matter, which the Ethics Committee can provide,” Tillis said.

– Additional reporting by Christina Wilkie.

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