North Carolina Senator Richard Burr is under serious scrutiny after selling off as much as $1.7 million worth of stocks shortly before coronavirus concerns caused the stock market to plummet — all while telling the American people everything would be fine.
Records show that Burr and his wife sold somewhere between $628,000 and $1.7 million worth of stock, or between 25-75% of his entire portfolio, over 33 transactions on February 13 of this year. The prior two weeks saw them make sales of up to $265,000 as well. Many of these sales were in companies that were set to lose large sums of money due to the coronavirus outbreak, such as hotel chains.
During this same period of time, Burr co-wrote a piece for Fox News downplaying concerns over the virus, claiming that “the United States today is better prepared than every before to face emerging threats, like the coronavirus, in large part due to the work of the Senate Health Committee, Congress, and the Trump administration.”
Now, people are wondering if he downplayed the threat on purpose.
While it’s certainly the responsibility of leaders to keep people calm in times of crisis, critics of his actions are positing that Burr’s public response had more to do with buying himself time to save his finances, while also warning his buddies to do the same.
Burr serves as the Senate Intelligence Chairman, which means he is part of a committee that was briefed on coronavirus multiple times after cases were first reported in China. He also helped write the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act, which gave him insight into how the Trump administration might eventually react to the crisis.
While the federal government did not publicly appear to be taking the threat of COVID-19 as serious as they should until recently, on February 27, two weeks after selling his own stocks, Burr warned wealthy and well-connected members of a social club that coronavirus was going to be more economically devastating than people were being told.
“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 on a secret recording of the meeting obtained by NPR. “It is probably more akin to the 1918 pandemic.”
This was in direct contrast with the public statement President Trump made on the very same day, claiming the virus would just miraculously “disappear.”
Essentially, Burr warned just his wealthy pals about the looming threat of coronavirus while keeping his constituents in the dark.
And it isn’t the first time in his career the Senator has made comments to the public in one direction while his own financial choices told a different story.
A 2009 Politico article revealed that Burr advised North Carolinians against panic during the fall 2008 financial crisis that saw Citigroup’s acquisition of Wachovia, but at the same time, had his wife pull out all the cash she could from the bank’s ATM.
Additionally, Burr was one of only three senators to vote against the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act (STOCK Act), a law seeking to ban insider trading by members of Congress.
Now, people are calling for Burr’s resignation.
Receiving briefings about coronavirus and using that intel to benefit himself financially, particularly while reassuring the public so as to not cause an economic panic, was a conflict of interest, blatantly unethical, and possibly criminal, many on both sides of the political aisle are claiming.
And Burr isn’t the only government official suspected of using inside information to save their own finances during this crisis.
Kelly Loeffler, a Republican Senator from Georgia, also sold off between $1.2 and $3.1 million in stock during the same time frame as Burr.