Three weeks ago, the Republican chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee privately warned dozens of donors about the harrowing impact the coronavirus would have on the United States, while keeping the general public in the dark.
In a secret recording obtained by NPR, North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr is heard giving attendees of a club luncheon a much different message than most federal government officials, especially President Trump, were giving the public at the time.
“There’s one thing that I can tell you about this,” Burr said, “It is much more aggressive in its transmission than anything that we have seen in recent history.” He added, “It is probably more akin to the 1918 pandemic.”
That pandemic claimed more than 600,000 American lives. While Burr’s public comments about the coronavirus at the time were rather tame, he provided facts about the dire reality of the virus to members of the Capitol Hill Club, a North Carolina group that consists of heads of businesses and organizations. According to federal records cited by NPR, the companies represented at the luncheon donated more than $100,000 to Burr’s election campaign in 2015 and 2016.
Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C., sold as much as $1.7 million in stocks just before the market dropped in February amid fears about the coronavirus epidemic.
Senate records show that Burr and his wife sold between roughly $600,000 and $1.7 million in more than 30 separate transactions in late January and mid-February, just before the market began to fall and as government health officials began to issue stark warnings about the effects of the virus. Several of the stocks were in companies that own hotels.
The stock sales were first reported by ProPublica and The Center for Responsive Politics. Most of them came on Feb. 13, just before Burr made a speech in North Carolina in which he predicted severe consequences from the virus, including closed schools and cutbacks in company travel, according to audio obtained by National Public Radio and released Thursday.
Burr was one of just three senators who in 2012 opposed the bill that explicitly barred lawmakers and their staff from using nonpublic information for trades and required regular disclosure of those trades. In opposing the bill, Burr argued at the time that insider trading laws already applied to members of Congress. President Barack Obama signed the bill, known as the STOCK Act, that year.
Stock transactions of lawmakers are reported in ranges. Burr’s Feb. 13 selling spree was his largest stock selling day of at least the past 14 months, according to a ProPublica review of Senate records. Unlike his typical disclosure reports, which are a mix of sales and purchases, all of the transactions were sales.
His biggest sales included companies that are among the most vulnerable to an economic slowdown. He dumped up to $150,000 worth of shares of Wyndham Hotels and Resorts, a chain based in the United States that has lost two-thirds of its value. And he sold up to $100,000 of shares of Extended Stay America, an economy hospitality chain. Shares of that company are now worth less than half of what they did at the time Burr sold.
The assets come from accounts that are held by Burr, belong to his spouse or are jointly held.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., is calling on Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., to resign after reports Thursday that the powerful Intelligence Committee chairman had privately warned well-connected donors of the dire impacts of the coronavirus pandemic last month while selling off up to $1.6 million of his own stocks.
Ocasio-Cortez said on Twitter that as chairman of the Intelligence Committee, Burr “got private briefings about Coronavirus weeks ago. Burr knew how bad it would be. He told the truth to his wealthy donors, while assuring the public that we were fine. THEN he sold off $1.6 million in stock before the fall. He needs to resign.”
Ocasio-Cortez was referring to two separate reports about Burr's activities in February.
Fox News opinion host Tucker Carlson on Thursday responded to the findings from ProPublica's report on Burr's trading activity, which has since come under intense scrutiny and bipartisan condemnation.
Burr, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, began unloading between $628,000 and $1.72 million in stock holdings starting on February 13, despite claiming in a co-authored Fox News opinion column six days prior that the “United States today is better prepared than ever before to face emerging public health threats, like the coronavirus.”
Carlson said that although Burr may have “an honest explanation” for his actions, the onus was on the longtime Republican lawmaker to quickly provide an answer for the public.
“He had inside information about what could happen to our country, which is now happening, but he didn't warn the public,” Carlson said in a monologue during his show. “He didn't give a prime time address, he didn't go on television to sound the alarm, he didn't even disavow an op-ed he'd written just … days before. He didn't do any of those things.”
“Instead, what did he do? He dumped his shares in hotel stocks so he wouldn't lose money,” Carlson added. “And then he stayed silent. Maybe there's an honest explanation for what he did. If there is, he should share it with the rest of us immediately.”
If Burr does not explain himself, Carlson said, “he must resign from the Senate and face prosecution for insider trading.”
“There is no greater moral crime than betraying your country in a time of crisis,” Carlson added.
By the way, if Burr were to resign:
If Burr were to resign, there would be a special election to replace him this November. In other words, NC would host two Senate races, just like GA (hi, Kelly Loeffler!) https://t.co/9bQtXoTGs5Ã¢ÂÂ Daily Kos Elections (@DKElections) March 20, 2020
Who. knows, we might have another Senate race coming up. In the meantime, let’s help Cal Cunningham (D. NC) get ready to defeat Burr’s colleague, U.S. Senator Thom Tillis (R. NC). Click here to donate and get involved with Cunningham’s campaign.
Also, looks like the majority of North Carolina voters think Burr should resign:
50% of North Carolina likely voters say yes, Burr must resign
26% say no
452 N / +-4.7 MOE / 3/19/2020
Full wording coming to the blog to tonight.
— Data for Progress (@DataProgress) March 20, 2020