U.S. Senator Richard Burr has stepped down from his committee chairmanship after the FBI seized his cell phone as part of an investigation into whether he sold stocks after receiving inside information about the coronavirus pandemic.
“Senator Burr contacted me this morning to inform me of his decision to step aside as Chairman of the Intelligence Committee during the pendency of the investigation,” Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnel said. “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.”
Agents with the FBI took possession of the Senate Intelligence Committee chairman’s cell phone at his Washington area home Wednesday, three months after he sold stock valued between $628,000 and $1.72 million in 33 separate transactions.
The day before Burr dumped the stocks on Feb. 13, the Dow Jones Industrial Average closed at a record high 29,551.42. On Feb. 20, stock prices began to plunge on concern the coronavirus pandemic would severely weaken the global economy.
The markets tumbled after Burr received daily coronavirus briefings as Senate Intelligence Committee chairman. The Washington Post reported Burr had access to classified intelligence reports that warned of calamitous consequences from the pandemic.
ProPublica reported last week that Burr’s brother-in-law, Gerald Fauth, who was appointed to the National Mediation Board by President Donald Trump, also sold stock on Feb. 13 valued between $97,000 and $280,000.
Burr has said he did not act on information he received as a senator. His attorney, Alice Fisher, said her client “participated in the stock market based on public information and he did not coordinate his decision to trade on February 13 with Mr. Fauth."
The federal STOCK Act prohibits legislators from acting on nonpublic information they receive as public officials to personally profit from stock transactions.
Then-President Barack Obama signed the prohibition into law in 2012 after the Senate passed it by a 93-3 vote.
Burr was among the three senators who voted against the measure.