Criticism of Sen. Burr’s stock sales intensifies as he faces Justice Department probe

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WASHINGTON — Florida lawmaker Tuesday escalated his attacks on U.S. Sen. Richard Burr, a fellow Republican, a day after reports that the Justice Department has launched a probe into Burr’s stock trades.

Multiple media outlets Monday reported that the Justice Department, along with the Securities and Exchange Commission, is investigating Burr’s February sale of up to $1.7 million in stocks. Reports said the FBI has contacted Burr over the transactions, which came before coronavirus took off in the United States, nearly shutting down the economy and sending stocks tumbling.

As chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, North Carolina’s senior senator was privy to what the Washington Post described as a surge of ominous intelligence warnings about the virus in January and early February. A week before his stock sales, Burr co-authored a Fox News column that sought to reassure Americans about the virus.

SEC spokeswoman Judith Burns on Tuesday declined to comment on the reported investigation.

GOP Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, who has been critical of Burr since the transactions were first reported, stepped up his criticism of Burr on Tuesday.

“Social distancing is not a sufficient penalty for Richard Burr,” he tweeted. “He needs to be removed as the intelligence chairman.”

He followed that two hours later with another: “Maybe in the next relief bill, Americans can choose: $1,200 or Stock tips from @SenatorBurr and @SenFeinstein.”

California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein was among a handful of other senators whose recent transactions have come under scrutiny. Feinstein, like the others, has denied wrongdoing, and said the biotech company stocks were sold by her husband.

Burr said he made his decision based on publicly available media reports, not on closed intelligence briefings. A day after ProPublica and the Center for Responsive Politics first reported on the stock sales, he asked the Senate Ethics Committee for a “complete review.”

On Tuesday, Burr’s office referred the Observer to a statement from Alice Fisher, a former U.S. assistant attorney general who is advising the senator.

“The law is clear that any American – including a Senator – may participate in the stock market based on public information, as Senator Burr did,” she said in the statement. “Senator Burr immediately asked the Senate Ethics Committee to conduct a complete review, and he will cooperate with that review as well as any other appropriate inquiry. Senator Burr welcomes a thorough review of the facts in this matter, which will establish that his actions were appropriate.”

Burr’s trades have drawn fire from conservatives like Fox News host Tucker Carlson, who called on him to resign and called his trades a “moral crime.” Even North Carolina’s other senator, Republican Thom Tillis, said last week that, “given the circumstances, Sen. Burr owes North Carolinians an explanation.”

And last week Politico reported that Burr was sued in federal court by a shareholder in Wyndham Hotels and Resorts. The shareholder claims that Burr used private information in deciding to sell the stocks. The Center for Responsive Politics reported that holdings sold by Burr and his wife, Brooke, included up to $150,000 of Wyndham stock.

The stock closed at $59.10 on Feb. 13, the day of the sale. On Tuesday morning it was trading at just over $31.

The 2012 STOCK Act prohibits profiting off “any nonpublic information derived from their positions as Members or congressional employees,” according to a Library of Congress summary. Burr was one of three senators to vote against the bill.

North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein, a Democrat, has tweeted that he found Burr’s trades “extremely troubling” and called for a federal investigation.

Other Democrats, including Senate candidate Cal Cunningham, have called for a probe by the Justice Department and the SEC. Robert Howard, spokesman for the state Democratic Party, Tuesday accused Burr of “pandemic profiteering.”

“Sen. Burr’s stock selloff scandal is only getting worse and it’s past time he step aside,” Howard said.


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