Mr. Burrs stayed open for months.
While he did not deny that he had sold much of his portfolio out of concerns about the spreading pandemic, he insisted that his deals were based solely on information reported by financial news in Asia rather than any specific information he considered Senator received.
Insider trading cases – especially those in which legislators are involved – are known to be difficult to prove. Legislators, like any other citizen, are allowed to make investment decisions based on public information. Under the Stock Corporation Act of 2012, they are prohibited from making decisions based on specific, non-public information that they access as senators.
The challenge for investigators is to get the public out of non-public information with insufficient confidence to prove that a lawmaker like Mr Burr acted at an unfair advantage over other investors. This is made even more difficult by the constitution’s speech or debate clause, which provides members of Congress with unusual protection from investigators.
In this case, Mr Burr’s sale came just days after a series of briefings he received in late January and early February as a member of the Senate Intelligence and Health Committees that focused on the coronavirus threat. At the time, Mr Trump and members of his party downplayed the virus threat, and although it had spread widely in Asia, the pandemic had not yet had a major impact on American life or its financial markets.
Clearly, Mr Burr, who had long trained his eye for public health and warned of the threat of pandemics, took this more seriously. On February 13, he sold 33 holdings of stocks totaling $ 628,000 to $ 1.7 million, a large portion of his portfolio.
The timing enabled him to avoid losses incurred by other investors when the stock market contracted sharply in February and March. The financial markets have since recovered and are posting record highs.
There were other costs to Mr. Burr along the way. For example, he stood on the sidelines this summer when the Intelligence Committee released the final results of its year-long investigation into Russian electoral influence in 2016 and links to the Trump campaign. He had overseen the politically sensitive investigation from the start and, in close cooperation with the panel’s top Democrat, Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, won the respect of colleagues from both parties in the face of sharp objections from President Trump.