On the Same Day Sen. Richard Burr Dumped Stock, So Did His Brother-in-Law. Then the Market Crashed.

The brother-in-law, a Trump appointee, sold between $97,000 and $280,000 worth of stock.

Sen. Richard Burr, with a gray beard and glasses, speaking behind a nameplate in a Senate chamber, with a mask pulled down around his chin.

Sen. Richard Burr on Tuesday. Burr and his brother-in-law sold a large amount of stock on the same day in February, ahead of the stock market collapse.Andrew Harnik-Pool/Getty

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Sen. Richard Burr was not the only member of his family to sell off a significant portion of his stock holdings in February, ahead of the market crash spurred by coronavirus fears. On the same day Burr sold, his brother-in-law also dumped tens of thousands of dollars worth of shares. The market fell by more than 30% in the subsequent month.

Burr’s brother-in-law, Gerald Fauth, who has a post on the National Mediation Board, sold between $97,000 and $280,000 worth of shares in six companies — including several that have been hit particularly hard in the market swoon and economic downturn.

A person who picked up Fauth’s phone on Wednesday hung up when asked if Fauth and Burr had discussed the sales in advance.

In 2017, President Donald Trump appointed Fauth to the three-person board of the National Mediation Board, a federal agency that facilitates labor-management relations within the nation’s railroad and airline industries. He was previously a lobbyist and president of his own transportation economic consulting firm, G.W. Fauth & Associates.

Burr came under scrutiny after ProPublica reported that he sold off a significant percentage of his stocks shortly before the market tanked, unloading between $628,000 and $1.72 million of his holdings on Feb. 13 in 33 separate transactions. As chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee and a member of the health committee, Burr had access to the government’s most highly classified information about threats to America’s security and public health concerns.

Before his sell-off, Burr had assured the public that the federal government was well-prepared to handle the virus. In a Feb. 7 op-ed that he co-authored with another senator, he said “the United States today is better prepared than ever before to face emerging public health threats, like the coronavirus.”

That month however, according to a recording obtained by NPR, Burr had given a VIP group at an exclusive social club a much more dire preview of the economic impact of the the coronavirus, warning it could curtail business travel, cause schools to be closed and result in the military mobilizing to compensate for overwhelmed hospitals.

The timing of Burr’s stock sales drew widespread outrage, allegations of insider trading, calls for his resignation and an FBI investigation.

Burr defended his actions, saying he relied solely on public information, including CNBC reports, to inform his trades and did not rely on information he obtained as a senator.

Fauth avoided between $37,000 and $118,000 in losses by selling off when he did, considering how steeply the companies’ shares fell in recent weeks, according to an analysis by Luke Brindle-Khym, a partner and general counsel of Manhattan-based investigative firm QRI. Brindle-Khym obtained Fauth’s financial disclosure from the Office of Government Ethics and shared it with ProPublica. Government forms only require that the value of stock trades be disclosed in ranges. After the February sales, the total value of Fauth’s individual stock holdings appears to be between $680,000 and $2 million.

Burr’s spokespeople did not immediately respond to requests for comment about whether the North Carolina Republican discussed the stock sales with his brother-in-law, or whether he shared any information he learned as a senator with Fauth or any other relatives.

A review of Fauth’s financial disclosure forms since 2017 show that he is not a frequent stock trader, but that he also had a major day of sales in August 2019.

On Feb. 13, Fauth or his spouse sold between $15,001 and $50,000 of Altria, the tobacco company; between $50,001 and $100,000 of snack food maker Mondelez International; and between $1,001 and $15,000 of home furnishings retailer Williams-Sonoma. He also sold stakes in several oil companies, which have been hit particularly hard, including between $15,001 and $50,000 of Chevron; between $1,001 and $15,000 of BP and between $15,001 and $50,000 of Royal Dutch Shell.

The finances of the Burrs and Fauths have intersected before. Federal Election Commission records show that Burr’s leadership PAC, Next Century Fund, has paid $120,348 since 2002 to his sister-in-law, Mary Fauth, Gerald’s wife, who serves as treasurer. The PAC has also paid $104,850 in rent and utilities over the same period to 116 S. Royal St. Partners, in which Gerald Fauth is a partner.

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THE BIG PICTURE

You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

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