Richard Burr Urges Ethics Probe as Criticism Grows over Coronavirus Stock Dump

Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., speaks with reporters on Capitol Hill, Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2020 in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Alex Brandon/AP Photo

Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) is urging the Senate Ethics Committee to probe his decision to unload upwards of $1.72 million in stock before the coronavirus pandemic reached its height in February.

Burr, who serves as chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, released a statement on Friday defending his conduct amid calls for his resignation from across the political aisle. In making his defense, the senator claimed he was not acting on any inside information when choosing to unload his investments. Burr did, however, admit that the pandemic was his prime motivator for the selloff—contrasting public statements he made at the time.

“I relied solely on public news reports to guide my decision regarding the sale of stocks on February 13,” Burr said in the statement. “Specifically, I closely followed CNBC’s daily health and science reporting out of its Asia bureaus at the time.”

“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,” the senator added.

Burr’s call for an Ethics Committee investigation comes less than one day after it was revealed he dumped thousands of dollars of stock—less than a week before the stock market sharply dropped because of the pandemic. The senator’s timely sell off netted between $628,000 and $1.72 million. Most of the shares were in companies, like Wyndham Hotels and Resorts and Hilton, that took an especially hard hit as coronavirus travel restrictions went into place.

More troubling for Burr is that transactions, 33 in total, came as the Intelligence Committee was receiving daily briefings on the pandemic. Given that fact, when news of the selloff broke, speculation began to stir that the senator had acted on inside information to protect his assets. If true, Burr could potentially be found in violation of the STOCK Act, which prohibits the use of non-public information for private profit by lawmakers.

Even before such a determination could be made, though, calls began to mount for Burr’s resignation from both the left and right. Fox News host Tucker Carlson summed up the feelings of many Thursday evening when delivering a blistering critic of the senator’s conduct. Carlson, in particular, suggested that even if Burr’s actions did not rise to the level of insider trading, they were still problematic as the senator had penned an op-ed only days before the selloff urging citizens to have faith in their government’s preparedness to combat the virus.

“He didn’t warn the public. … He didn’t even disavow an op-ed he’d written just ten days before claiming America was ‘better prepared than ever for coronavirus,’” the Fox News host said. “Instead … he dumped his shares in hotel stocks so he wouldn’t lose money, and then he stayed silent.”

“Maybe there is an honest explanation for what he did. If there is, he should share it with the rest of us immediately,” Carlson added. “Otherwise, he must resign from the Senate and face prosecution for insider trading.”

Others, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), echoed a similar sentiment about Burr’s conduct when calling for his resignation.

“Burr knew how bad it would be. He told the truth to his wealthy donors, while assuring the public that we were fine,” the congresswoman said on Twitter, noting a recent report by NPR that Burr had warned North Carolina business leaders about the burgeoning pandemic in late-February during a closed-door meeting. “He needs to resign.”

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