DOJ Closes Senate Insider Trading Probes, Still Investigating Burr

Likely the right outcome but I wish I political motivation weren't the default presumption.

The Trump Justice Department is no longer investigating three Senators who mysteriously shifted their stock portfolios after receiving early, classified briefs on the coming coronavirus.

WSJ (“Justice Department Closing Insider-Trading Investigations Into Three U.S. Senators“):

The Justice Department is closing investigations into three U.S. senators for stocks trades made shortly before the coronavirus market turmoil, but is continuing a related investigation into GOP Sen. Richard Burr, according to people familiar with the matter.

Prosecutors on Tuesday alerted defense attorneys for Republicans Kelly Loeffler of Georgia and James Inhofe of Oklahoma as well as Democrat Dianne Feinstein of California that they are closing investigations into their trading, the people said.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation began the investigations two months ago, as reports emerged that several members of Congress, their spouses or their investment advisers sold hundreds of thousands of dollars in stock after lawmakers attended closed-door briefings about the threat posed by the pandemic. Some of those trades spared lawmakers as much as hundreds of thousands of dollars in losses as stocks sank by mid-March.

All of the lawmakers have denied any impropriety in the trading. Ms. Feinstein, Ms. Loeffler and Mr. Inhofe have said their investment advisers made the trades and that they didn’t learn of them until after the fact.

Mr. Burr, of North Carolina, had more direct involvement in his trades and has said he was relying on news reports coming out of Asia, where the virus first emerged, to make his investment decisions. Earlier this month he agreed to temporarily step down as chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee after FBI agents obtained a warrant to seize his cellphone in connection with the investigation.

Sadly, Trump and his toady Attorney General, William Barr, have so damaged the reputation of the Justice Department that my initial reaction to seeing the news was that the decision was politically motivated and corrupt. On reflection, however, it was likely the correct result.

With past administrations, the suggestion that the impartial professionals at the DOJ were politically motivated was the stuff of lunatic fringe rants. The only time it came up was when there were obvious conflicts of interest, such as the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email issues.

Trump and Barr have lost the presumption of decency. The only reason I think the results here are above-board is that the same result was applied to Feinstein as the two Republicans in question. The fact that Burr, a Republican albeit one who has clashed with Trump and is not running for re-election, is still under investigation—and that the distinction seems to be that he personally directed the trades whereas the others followed the prudent practice of outsourcing decisions to financial advisers—adds further weight to that conclusion.

FILED UNDER: Congress, Crime, Law and the Courts, US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. MarkedMan says:

    I think you are far too generous.

    5
  2. Sleeping Dog says:

    Burr was a bur under Tiny’s saddle it is a natural presumption that even if Burr was insider trading, that the current JD investigation is the persecution of a Trump political enemy.

    1
  3. wr says:

    “The only reason I think the results here are above-board is that the same result was applied to Feinstein as the two Republicans in question.”

    Feinstein was always a bullshit charge that they were using for “balance.” And that’s what they’re doing now — in exchange for dropping the ludicrous charges against Feinstein they are burying Loefler’s obvious guilt.

    10
  4. Michael Reynolds says:

    We no longer have a Department of Justice, that ended when Burr was confirmed. What we have now is a tool of a criminal regime.

    That said, in the absence of evidence that inside information has been forwarded to the broker, you can’t blame someone for their broker’s trades. I have some person in Marin County investing some of my money, I have literally no idea what stocks I even own in that account. For all I know I’m a stockholder in some Brazilian company cloning baby Hitlers.

    9
  5. Pete S says:

    Loeffler, I think, is a problem. Either that or she has the greatest broker in history. I think her broker acquired stock in the meeting from home firms at the same time as the large stock sale just prior to the crash. But her husband gave $1m to a Trump PAC so of course she is innocent. Inhofe and Feinstein probably were innocent but guilt and innocence don’t seem like relevant concepts to the DOJ anymore. Loeffler ponied up, she had to be announced as clear, Inhofe and Feintstein were cleared as well to make the corruption a little less blatant.

    I hate thinking like this but with this administration it is the only way that makes sense to me.

    1
  6. gVOR08 says:

    Is this a function of DOJ trying to play fair, or at least appear to? Or is it a function of the difficulty of making corruption cases under current legal interpretation?

    1
  7. DrDaveT says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    For all I know I’m a stockholder in some Brazilian company cloning baby Hitlers.

    I got out of baby Hitler clones when they failed their Phase 2 trial.

    1
  8. Gustopher says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    That said, in the absence of evidence that inside information has been forwarded to the broker, you can’t blame someone for their broker’s trades. I have some person in Marin County investing some of my money, I have literally no idea what stocks I even own in that account. For all I know I’m a stockholder in some Brazilian company cloning baby Hitlers.

    Presumably you broker also has other people invested in Baby Hitler LLC, and has knowledge over the why and how — if only to explain to you why your investment failed.

  9. de stijl says:

    The DOJ (and DOS) under Trump has become a laughing stock.

    Behaviors we associate with strongmen and the Soviets are now routinely employed.

    This is shocking.

    Trump broke the system in 3 years. That’s pretty effing scary.

    1