New questions surface about David Perdue’s involvement in stock trades

U.S. Sen. David Perdue’s campaign has said for months that he had a hands-off approach to his stock portfolio. However, a report from The New York Times about a federal investigation into Perdue’s trades during the early weeks of the coronavirus pandemic shows he did have some input on trades made on his behalf.

Perdue’s campaign says there is no contradiction. He had no control over how most of the stocks he held in individual companies was managed, a campaign strategist said. But he was involved in approving broad investment strategy decisions when it came to his shares of the data marketing firm Cardlytics.

“Senator Perdue doesn’t handle the day-to-day decisions of his portfolio — all of his holdings are managed by outside financial advisors who make recommendations, set strategy, and manage trades and personal finances,” campaign spokesman John Burke said. “These facts are confirmed by the New York Times reporting.”

The Times’ article says Perdue told an adviser at Goldman Sachs to sell off at least $1 million in stocks for the Atlanta-based Cardlytics in January, shortly after receiving an email from the company’s chief executive. The Times spoke to four people who were granted anonymity but said they had direct knowledge of the Justice Department’s investigation into Perdue’s finances.

Cardlytics’ Scott Grimes, in his Jan. 21 email to Perdue, mentioned “upcoming changes” at the company. Within two days, Perdue had decided to sell off a fraction of his shares.

The Times wrote: “Mr. Perdue then contacted his wealth manager at Goldman Sachs, Robert Hutchinson, and instructed him to sell a little more than $1 million worth of Cardlytics shares, or about 20 percent of his position, three of the people said. One person familiar with the inquiry into Mr. Perdue’s trades said that the conversation was memorialized in an internal Goldman Sachs record later obtained by the F.B.I.”

The article says that the investigation was ultimately closed with no finding of wrongdoing by Perdue. That falls in line with what he has said all along — that various federal agencies that looked into his coronavirus trades found no laws were broken.

But the Times’ passage also adds a new wrinkle to what the senator told his constituents and media organizations about those trades — that he did not control how his portfolio is managed.

“In the last five years, I’ve had outside professionals that manage my personal affairs,” Perdue said during a March interview with Nexstar Media Group. “I don’t deal with it on a day-to-day basis. I think if you look through that period of time, you will find purchases and sales just like you would last year this time or any other time.”

His spokeswoman, Cherie Gillan, in April told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: “Since coming to the U.S. Senate in 2015, Sen. Perdue has always had an outside adviser managing his personal finances, and he is not involved in day-to-day decisions. For the past five years, the senator has fully complied with federal law and all Senate ethics requirements.”

Perdue’s team said all that is true. His decision to sell off the Cardlytics shares was based on advice he received from his money manager in October 2019, which the Times article also recounts. The timing of the trade coming within two days of the email from Grimes — a message reportedly sent in error — was just coincidence, Perdue’s representatives said.

Still, the apparent inconsistency has provided new fodder for Democrats in crafting opposition messaging against Perdue ahead of the Jan. 5 runoff that will determine whether Republicans maintain Senate control. Democrats need to unseat both Perdue and fellow Georgia U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler to flip the chamber.

“Today’s report reveals he’s been lying all along, and that federal investigators found Senator Perdue did personally direct his own stock trades,” Perdue’s opponent, Jon Ossoff, said in a statement Wednesday. “Perdue’s misconduct is repeated and flagrant.”

Various groups tied to the Democratic Party also weighed in critically, and the matter is expected to follow both Perdue and Loeffler, whose trading at the start of the coronavirus outbreak was also scrutinized. Both decided to sell off a majority of their holdings in individual companies’ stocks in hopes of moving past the controversy.

But they didn’t get rid of it all. Perdue still holds shares in Cardlytics that in May were worth $3.3 million. The company’s value has increased since then.

Staff writer Greg Bluestein contributed to this article.