Sen. Richard Burr, the Republican chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, is temporarily stepping aside from his role due to questions over the possibility that he may have used insider knowledge about the coronavirus pandemic to benefit financially in sales of his stock market shares.
The senator from North Carolina sold between $628,000 and $1.7 million in stocks in multiple sales on February 13 of this year, around the same time he was offering assurances to the public about the coronavirus. Later in that month, however, Burr was caught on a recording telling a group of VIPs at a social club that the disease was much more worrisome, according to reporting from ProPublica.
On Wednesday, the FBI served Burr with a warrant to hand over his cellphone in order to obtain data from the iPhone’s cloud storage. The device was retrieved at Burr’s home, with the warrant being approved “at the highest levels” of the Department of Justice, according to officials within that agency.
On Thursday, due to the complexity of the Senate Intelligence Committee possibly having some role in handling information regarding the investigation, Burr stepped aside from his chairmanship position, explaining to reporters that had he remained as chair, it would be “a distraction to the hard work of the committee.”
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a Democratic member of the same committee, was also questioned by the FBI regarding her husband’s stock transactions around the same time. Feinstein said in a statement to reporters that she was “happy to voluntarily answer those questions” from the FBI “to set the record straight” and provide additional documents to show she had no involvement in her husband’s transactions.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell weighed in on Burr’s decision to step aside from his position, voicing an understanding about the sensitive nature of the investigation into his actions.
“We agreed that this decision would be in the best interests of the committee and will be effective at the end of the day [Friday],” McConnell said.
Additional questions about what Burr knew and how he acted upon that information were raised earlier this month when it was revealed that his brother-in-law, Gerald Fauth, also sold tens of thousands of dollars worth of stock on February 13.
Fauth is also involved in work within the federal government, as he was appointed to the National Mediation Board by President Donald Trump in 2017, an agency tasked with facilitating labor relations within the transportation industry.
Burr is not the only Republican senator who appears to have possibly benefited from inside information about coronavirus. Sen. Kelly Loeffler, a Republican from Georgia and a member of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, reportedly received information about COVID-19 on January 24 in a private meeting of members of that committee.
On that same day, Loeffler initiated sales of stocks from her portfolio. Her stock sales from that time through the month of March totaled at least $18 million.