The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) is probing stock transactions made by Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) shortly before news of the coronavirus pandemic became public knowledge, which sent the stock market tumbling thousands of points, according to a report from CNN:

“The inquiry, which is still in its early stages and being done in coordination with the Securities and Exchange Commission, has so far included outreach from the FBI to at least one lawmaker, Sen. Richard Burr, seeking information about the trades, according to one of the sources.

“Public scrutiny of the lawmakers’ market activity has centered on whether members of Congress sought to profit from the information they obtained in non-public briefings about the virus epidemic.”

Burr, who serves as chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, sold between $628,000 and $1.7 million in stocks on February 13. Burr maintains that he did so based on public news reports, not any information he was given as a member of Congress. He has asked the Senate Ethics Committee to investigate the trades due to “the assumption many could make in hindsight.”

However, while Burr may be eager to see the ethics committee take a closer look at his actions, a criminal referral from the DOJ could well prove to be politically damaging to the senator and potentially lead to him being indicted on various charges.

Alice Fisher, an attorney for Burr, said the senator welcomes a “review of the facts” in the case, adding:

“The law is clear that any American — including a Senator — may participate in the stock market based on public information, as Senator Burr did. When this issue arose, Senator Burr immediately asked the Senate Ethics Committee to conduct a complete review, and he will cooperate with that review as well as any other appropriate inquiry.”

In 2012, Congress passed the Stock Act, which makes it a crime for a lawmaker to use insider information not available to the general public in order to gain an financial benefit.

Featured Image Via NBC News