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Congressman defends stock trades made during pandemic

Robert Houk • Updated May 28, 2020 at 8:30 PM

U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, R-Johnson City, said Thursday that his stock transactions during the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic have been “above board,” and called a recent Nashville newspaper’s story detailing his financial activity during the public health crisis an "untruthful hit piece.”

“It was basically character assassination,” the 1st District congressman told reporters during a conference call from his office in Washington, D.C.

Roe said he intends to send a letter to the editor to The Tennessean challenging a story that appeared in the newspaper earlier this week that stated he made hundreds of financial transactions before the stock market dropped in March. The retired physician called the recounting of his financial transaction during the pandemic a “cheap shot.”

The newspaper’s analysis shows the Northeast Tennessee lawmaker purchased stock in Zoom, a popular video conferencing service, and Moderna, a company now working to develop a coronavirus vaccine. His financial advisors also sold shares of Royal Caribbean Cruise and Disney a few days before those companies halted their operations for COVID-19.

Common Dreams also posted a story on April 30 detailing a report by the non-partisan Campaign Legal Center, which looked at the financial transactions made by members of Congress between Feb. 2 and April 8. The report found Roe had recorded the most transactions — 366 — of any member of the House or Senate with a value of between $2.4 million and $10.6 million.

Roe said Thursday he didn’t dispute The Tennessean’s reporting of the amount of the stock transactions he made during that period. He noted those trades must be reported under a 2012 federal law that he voted for.

Even so, the congressman said the “conclusions drawn” by the story “are absolutely, totally and salaciously false because I was never involved in those decisions.” 

Instead, he said all the stock transactions were conducted by a financial advisor with Merrill Lynch, who has independently managed his portfolio for several decades. Roe said a number of the reported transactions included investments made by a separate brokerage firm that handles his wife’s “sizable retirement” account.

The congressman said he shared no information from any congressional or White House briefings he received about the pandemic with his financial adviser before the transactions were made. Roe repeatedly told reporters Thursday that he has deliberately kept an “arm’s length” distance from the details of his investments since he was elected to Congress.

The congressman said he felt his “reputation was destroyed” by The Tennessean article. Roe, a native of Clarksville, said he has received a number of calls and texts from family members and friends since the story appeared.

“What really bugged me about this is that I grew up in Middle Tennessee,” Roe said. “I have a lot of friends there, and I have spent more than 60 years trying to be honest and straight-forward with people. Trying to be as upright as I could be in my community, and in my practice of medicine.”

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