Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) is temporarily stepping aside as chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee amid a Department of Justice (DOJ) investigation into his decision to unload upwards of $1.72 million in stock ahead of the coronavirus outbreak.
Burr, who is facing not only a DOJ probe, but also one by the Securities and Exchange Commission, informed Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) this morning of his decision to relinquish his committee gavel temporarily due to ongoing controversy.
“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,” McConnell said in a statement Thursday.
Although it is unclear who will replace Burr at the helm of the Intelligence Committee, on Thursday, Senate Majority Whip John Thune (R-SD) floated the idea of Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) as the panel’s next most senior member, Sen. Jim Risch (R-ID), was already chairing the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), a senior member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, was questioned by federal agents in recent days over her husband’s decision to sell stock ahead of the outbreak, according to NBC News.
The decision to step down comes one day after Burr was served a warrant at his Washington, DC, residence by federal agents, according to the Los Angeles Times. Law enforcement officials purportedly seized Burr’s cell phone in hopes of establishing a communications timeline between the senator and his stockbroker as they probe into his decision to unload hundreds of thousands of dollars in stock this past February.
Burr, who at the time was receiving nearly daily briefings by the Senate Intelligence Committee on the coronavirus threat, netted between $628,000 and $1.72 million. The senator’s sale, which came less than a week before the stock market tumbled because of the virus, has sparked questions of insider trading, especially as most of the shares he sold were in travel and hospitality companies, such as Wyndham Hotels and Resorts and Hilton, which were hard hit due to coronavirus travel restrictions.
Perhaps more troubling is that Burr’s brother-in-law, a political appointee of President Donald Trump, also dumped upwards of $280,000 in stock on the same day as the senator.
Given the fact pattern, many speculate Burr may have acted on insider information privy only to his committee to protect his and his family’s assets. If true, Burr could be found in violation of the STOCK Act, which prohibits the use of non-public information for lawmakers’ private profit.
Even before Burr opted to step down from his chairmanship, the senator’s political standing had already taken a hit. Not only has he drawn criticism from both sides of the political aisle, but recent polling indicates a majority of his North Carolina constituents believe he should resign over the matter. The political pressure culminating was evidenced on Thursday when Burr’s seatmate, Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC), t0ld a local North Carolina radio station he owed everyone an “explanation” for his conduct.