- North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr will step down as chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee while being investigated for a series of stock transactions he made earlier this year, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced Thursday.
- Burr dumped as much as $1.72 million in stocks in February, days after reassuring the public the Trump administration was well prepared to handle the novel coronavirus outbreak.
- Burr unloaded his stocks shortly before the US stock market plunged amid fears of the outbreak.
- His committee was reportedly getting daily briefings on the threat of the coronavirus around the time he dumped his stock.
- The North Carolina lawmaker has denied any wrongdoing and a spokesperson for his office said he is cooperating with the investigation.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Republican Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina will temporarily step down from his post as Chairman of the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence as the FBI investigates his stock trades, Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Thursday.
On Wednesday, The Los Angeles Times reported that the FBI had seized a cell phone belonging to Burr while investigating stock trades he made earlier this year. He was reportedly served with a search warrant at his home near Washington, DC.
“Senator Burr contacted me this morning to inform me of his decision to step aside as Chairman of the Intelligence Committee during the pendency of the investigation,” McConnell said in a statement. “We agreed that this decision would be in the best interests of the committee and will be effective at the end of the day tomorrow.”
Burr and other members of the powerful Senate Intelligence Committee have access to the federal government’s most classified and sensitive information.
According to Reuters, Burr’s committee was getting daily briefings on the threat of the coronavirus around the time he dumped his stock.
The senator unloaded up to $1.72 million in stocks on February 13, days after reassuring the public that the Trump administration was well prepared to handle the outbreak of the novel coronavirus.
A source familiar with the matter told CNN his committee did not get a briefing the week he sold his stocks.
In a February 7, op-ed for Fox News, Burr — along with Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee — acknowledged that “Americans are rightfully concerned about the coronavirus” at a time when the number of cases in China was still skyrocketing.
The senators added, however, that “Thankfully, the United States today is better prepared than ever before to face emerging public health threats, like the coronavirus, in large part due to the work of the Senate Health Committee, Congress, and the Trump Administration.”
According to Burr’s financial disclosure form, he started dumping stock on February 13, six days after writing that op-ed.
He made a total of 33 separate transactions, unloading anywhere from $1,001 to $100,000 worth of stocks in different companies.
Burr defended his actions the day after ProPublica first reported on the stock sales, saying in a statement, “I relied solely on public news reports to guide my decision regarding the sale of stocks on February 13. Specifically, I closely followed CNBC’s daily health and science reporting out of its Asia bureaus at the time.”
He added: “Understanding the assumption many could make in hindsight, however, I spoke this morning with the chairman of the Senate Ethics Committee and asked him to open a complete review of the matter with full transparency.”
ProPublica’s report came hours after NPR reported it had obtained a recording that features Burr raising dire concerns about the coronavirus to members of a private Washington club.
“There’s one thing I can tell you about this: It is much more aggressive in its transmission than anything we have seen in recent history. It’s probably more akin to the 1918 pandemic,” Burr said in the recording, according to NPR.
“Every company should be cognizant of the fact that you may have to alter your travel,” Burr added. “You may have to look at your employees and judge whether the trip they’re making to Europe is essential or whether it could be done on video conference. Why risk it?”
After ProPublica published its report, it surfaced that several other US senators had also dumped millions in stocks right before the markets plummeted amid fears of the coronavirus.
Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler of Georgia sold off shares after a closed-door briefing on the outbreak on January 24. Sen. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma and Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California also unloaded stocks in the weeks after the briefing. All of the senators have denied any wrongdoing.
CNN reported in March that the Justice Department was investigating the actions of US lawmakers who sold stocks before the market plunged amid coronavirus fears. The FBI has reportedly reached out to Burr as part of the probe.
In a statement to CNN, Alice Fisher, a lawyer for Burr, said he “welcomes a thorough review of the facts in this matter, which will establish that his actions were appropriate.”
Loeffler, Inhofe, and Feinstein’s offices said the lawmakers have not been contacted by the FBI. Inhofe and Loeffler said their stock transactions are held by third parties, while Feinstein said that her husband had sold the stocks and that she holds “all assets in a blind trust of which I have no control.”