JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – U.S. Representative Phil Roe of Tennessee Wednesday responded to an article published by The Tennessean newspaper in Nashville that he had traded stocks to his advantage before the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic hit the United States.
Wednesday, Congressman Roe spoke with News Channel 11’s Josh Smith on how he felt angered by the report.
“This is a total, 100 % political hit job. Let me explain to you why it is exactly that – I was concerned with that when I came to Congress in January of 2009 when I was sworn in. I’ve used the same financial advisors for decades, and I said: ‘look, I don’t want anything to do with any financial decisions. I want that totally off the table for me,” Roe said. “So, I have made none – zero – since then. And in 2012, I voted for the Stock Act and it went into effect in 2013, and what that says is every single financial transaction that any Congressman makes, is reported on each month, so you can see every month of how this is done. So, when this pandemic occurred, I was totally out of the equation. All these decisions are made by my financial advisors.”
Roe went on to say that his only interaction with his financial advisors at the Merrill Lynch offices in Johnson City, Tenn. was a few meetings a year to determine what the congressman’s financial goals were for the year.
He added that his wife’s financial portfolio – which is brokered through a different agency – was submitted into public record along with his.
“She also had a portfolio which is managed by a different company and she makes no input, my wife makes no input whatsoever into hers and the way it’s reported is both of those accounts come in as one so actually you’re looking at two different accounts when you look at our, that’s why it looks like it does,” he said. “So, it’s, I think, politically motivated and again, anything that was bought, I had no input into it.”
Roe blames the reporter who wrote the article in The Tennessean.
“I have no idea what their motivation is, but I can tell you they know that I do not make those financial transactions myself and again, Josh, I didn’t take PAC money to get re-elected for this same reason,” Roe said. “I wanted to make sure that this is as above board as I can possibly be and here I am at the end of my career getting accused for things that I did not do.”
Roe maintains he had no input in his stock trades in January.
“Number one, you can see what we buy, it’s perfectly transparent, but I just made a commitment to the people of my district and to this country to make sure that everything was above board and I have kept my word,” he assured.
Roe bought shares in Zoom, Slack and Spotify in January ahead of the pandemic hitting the U.S.
“I think my advisor, I’m sure that what they’ve done, they have access to information I probably don’t even have access to, but that’s what they do for a living, that’s why I hired them because I have a job here which is a full-time job being a Congressman and I did not have time to concentrate on and do both, and I was worried about a conflict. So that’s exactly why I did – I picked a good advisor, I’ve been with them for decades, and they’ve done a good job for me,” he said.
Roe sold his shares Delta and Royal Caribbean stocks in March, before those stocks took a major hit. The congressman maintained that his financial advisors made those sales decisions.
“They look at the market and look, by February, if you’ll remember, there were five or six days in February where the market moved down 1,000 points, so it was obvious to everybody that by then, this virus was effecting the market and so, it was obvious to anybody who watches any television at all knew that the market was very volatile at that time,” Roe said.
Roe said that it was his understanding that his advisors at Merrill Lynch in Johnson City offered similar financial advice to all of their clients.
“No-one sits down with us and says ‘buy, this, buy that,’ we don’t do that. Neither does my wife and she has exactly the same relationship, but when it’s reported, both of our accounts are reported,” he said of both his and his wife’s portfolios. “Actually, not counting one account, but two.”
According to Campaign Legal Center, it was reported that Roe’s portfolio was investing at a higher rate than other members of Congress. He said he thought it was perhaps because his account also contained that of his wife.
Roe said his financial advisor was ‘furious’ that the congressman was being accused of misusing the power of his public office to make financial decisions.
“He felt exactly like I did, he didn’t know how to respond because he thought this is so unfair because ‘you weren’t involved in any of those decisions, I was,” Roe said.
Roe said he felt the Tennessean reporter who wrote the original article intended to create distrust among his constituents.
“They knew that I did not make any of the trades – they knew that, and so, then you create a scenario to make ‘fake news.’ They then create a scenario that ‘oh, you did this because of that.’ Well, I didn’t do anything, and they knew i didn’t do anything, but they created the story that’s just an absolute bold-faced lie,” he assured.
As to why he thinks this story has come to light, Roe said: “It’s the environment we live in.”
He said his family was also “furious” when they heard about the reports.
Roe said he doubts he will grant The Tennessean an interview now. He added that he has been trying to help his constituents through this pandemic as much as he could, starting with the case of the Elizabethton couple who were stranded on a cruise ship off the coast of Japan.
“The Tennessean tried to frame in some way me helping people get off a cruise ship that I didn’t even know – 438 Americans – look, I’m an old Army guy, we don’t leave our people behind,” he said. “That’s what I told the folks in the government here.”
Roe also said that he is unaware of any government agency seeking to investigate his finances.
He said that it is hurtful that after a career of public service, he faces allegations.