Facebook | Senator Richard Burr

GOP Senator Sold Off Millions In Stocks While Reassuring Public About COVID-19

Ryan Ford 20 Mar 2020

North Carolina Republican Senator Richard Burr is facing calls to resign following a ProPublica report that he sold off $1.7 million in stocks following briefings on the COVID-19 situation in the U.S., while reassuring the public and downplaying the disease.

Soon after Burr dumped his shares, the stock market plummeted.

As Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Burr has access to sensitive information.

Facebook | Senator Richard Burr

As ProPublica reported, Senator Burr made 33 separate transactions totaling between $628,000 and $1.72 million on February 13, at a time when the committee was receiving daily briefings on the nation's coronavirus response.

A week later, the stock market began a precipitous decline, losing about 30% of its value.

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What's more, Senator Burr's public comments on the coronavirus don't seem to match his private comments.

Facebook | Senator Richard Burr

On February 7, Burr and Senator Lamar Alexander wrote an op-ed for Fox News in which they reassured the public that the government was well positioned for a pandemic fight. Less than a week later came Burr's stock dump.

On February 27, Burr addressed a group that NPR described as "a small group of well-connected constituents," giving them a much less rosy picture of the situation, according to audio obtained by NPR.

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At the time, the U.S. had just 15 confirmed cases of COVID-19.

Facebook | Senator Richard Burr

Nevertheless, Burr told the gathering of donors and constituents that they may have to significantly change their lives. "Every company should be cognizant of the fact that you may have to alter your travel," he said. "You may have to look at your employees and judge whether the trip they're making to Europe is essential or whether it can be done on video conference. Why risk it?"

Thirteen days later, the State Department started issuing warnings about traveling to Europe, and two days after that, the Trump administration banned European travelers. Among the stocks Burr dumped were shares in two hotel chains, NBC News reported.

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Senator Burr also raised the idea of school closures as well as mobilizing the military to combat the spread of the virus.

Facebook | Senator Richard Burr

"There's one thing that I can tell you about this: It is much more aggressive in its transmission than anything that we have seen in recent history," he said. "It is probably more akin to the 1918 pandemic."

The 1918 flu pandemic killed roughly 50 million worldwide, and about 675,000 in the U.S.

And yet, on March 5, Burr was again downplaying the risks to the public, saying "Luckily, we have a framework in place that has put us in a better position than any other country to respond to a public health threat, like the coronavirus," in a statement.

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Members of Congress are strictly prohibited from using any inside information for personal profit.

The 2012 STOCK Act, signed into law by President Obama, makes it illegal to do so. Senator Burr was one of three senators to vote against the act.

It's unclear what information Burr and other senators have been party to in their briefings, however, as they remain classified.

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In the wake of these revelations, several prominent voices have called for Senator Burr's resignation.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was among the first to do so on Twitter. Fox News personality Tucker Carlson also suggested Burr should resign and face prosecution if he fails to provide "an honest explanation" about his stock trades.

Many others have called for an investigation at the least, including Rep. Joaquin Castro, who suggested Burr suspend his committee chairmanship pending an investigation.

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Senator Burr has pushed back against the allegations of wrongdoing.

In a series of tweets, the Senator referred to the NPR story as a "tabloid-style hit piece" and noted that his February 27 address wasn't an exclusive event.

"This lunch was hosted on Feb. 27 by the North Carolina State Society. It was publicly advertised and widely attended," he wrote.

"NPR knew, but did not report, that attendees also included many non-members, bipartisan congressional staff, and representatives from the governor’s office."

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A spokesperson for the Senator also denied any wrongdoing with the stock sell-off.

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"Senator Burr filed a financial disclosure form for personal transactions made several weeks before the U.S. and financial markets showed signs of volatility due to the growing coronavirus outbreak," the statement said, according to CNN. "As the situation continues to evolve daily, he has been deeply concerned by the steep and sudden toll this pandemic is taking on our economy."

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Nevertheless, Senator Burr says he's willing to cooperate with an ethics investigation.

In a more recent statement, the Senator claimed that he based his trades "solely on public news reports" and not on any information he may have received during intelligence committee briefings.

h/t: ProPublica, NPR, CNN, NBC News

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