Senator’s cellphone seized amid federal investigation of stock trades made ahead of COVID-19 spread

Months after it was revealed that he had made dozens of questionable stock trades ahead of a global pandemic—and advised wealthy constituents to do the same—Republican Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina had his cellphone seized by federal agents Wednesday night. The agents were at the senator’s Washington, D.C., residence.

Burr, who is a member of the “Gang of Eight” and the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, sparked scrutiny in mid-March after making 33 transactions in February, that rid him of a significant chunk of his stock portfolio and netted him anywhere between $628,000 and $1.72 million, according to the Los Angeles Times. The transactions came after briefings on the potential impact of the novel coronavirus from the U.S. Department of Health.

While NPR broke the story about the private warnings to rich Tar Heels, ProPublica was the first to report on the selloff. 

ProPublica’s analysis indicated that the Feb. 13 selling spree was Burr’s “largest selling day of at least the past 14 months.”

As the head of the intelligence committee, Burr, a North Carolina Republican, has access to the government’s most highly classified information about threats to America’s security. His committee was receiving daily coronavirus briefings around this time, according to a Reuters story.

A week after Burr’s sales, the stock market began a sharp decline.

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Burr is not a particularly wealthy member of the Senate: Roll Call estimated his net worth at $1.7 million in 2018, indicating that the February sales significantly shaped his financial fortunes and spared him from some of the pain that many Americans are now facing.

The newest and wealthiest member of the Senate, Georgia’s Kelly Loeffler, also got in on the secret selloff, making 29 transactions that add up to millions.  It’s worth noting that Burr is just one of three senators (and the only one still in office) who voted against the 2012 STOCK Act, which, as McClatchy puts it, “explicitly prevents members of Congress and their staffs from using nonpublic information for insider trading.”  Both the FBI and the DOJ have refused comment, as has Burr’s team; however, as the LA Times notes, the search warrant indicates “a significant escalation” in the investigation into Burr’s possible violation of the STOCK Act.

Senate Intelligence chair warns fellow Republicans that Biden probe is playing into Russia’s hands

Top Senate Republicans are moving ahead with an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden, despite being warned by the Republican chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee that they may be playing directly into Russia’s hands.

Sens. Ron Johnson and Chuck Grassley, the heads of the Senate Homeland Security and Finance committees, are targeting Biden as a continuation of Donald Trump’s efforts to rig the 2020 elections. On December 5, Politico reports, Senate Intelligence Committee Richard Burr told them that such an investigation could boost Russia’s efforts to destabilize the U.S. political system.

No less a Trump sycophant than Sen. Lindsey Graham, the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, echoes Burr’s concerns. “Any documents coming out of the Ukraine against any American, Republican or Democrat, need to be looked at by the intelligence services, who has expertise I don't because Russia is playing us all like a fiddle,” Graham said in early February. His committee is not joining the investigation into Biden.

Grassley, who refused to back impeachment trial witnesses, isn’t ruling out issuing subpoenas in this baseless and politically motivated investigation—an investigation Republicans didn’t launch when or anytime soon after Hunter Biden joined the board of Ukrainian gas company Burisma because they weren’t interested in damaging Joe Biden’s electoral prospects at that point. 

”We wait until we get all the information,” Grassley said. “I don’t want to threaten subpoenas until I know that they’re going to be used.” Presumably “all the information” includes whether Joe Biden looks like he could still become the Democratic presidential nominee.

14 Republicans who voted to impeach, convict, and remove Clinton will vote to acquit Trump today

This afternoon, Senate Republicans will vote almost certainly with unanimity to acquit Donald Trump of the charges included in two impeachment articles brought against him—abuse of power and obstruction of justice. If that acquittal wasn’t already completely obvious, all doubt was removed last night by the enthusiastic fawning over the lawless Donald J. Trump’s spew of fabrications, exaggerations, and braggadocio in a speech of vindication and denial applauded by men and women who really, clearly don’t care about the gaping wound their decision will leave in constitutional norms. Not yet fatal to democracy, but this gives Trump the freedom to do something that could be.

Fourteen of those Republican senators who will vote today also voted on the impeachment of Bill Clinton 21 years ago. Eight of them, then members of the House, voted in favor of two articles of impeachment—perjury and obstruction of justice for lying under oath. Six others, who were already in the Senate then and still are, voted to convict Clinton. As you might guess, they had very different things to say about impeachment and what was impeachable at the time than they have said lately.

Below are some of their remarks during Clinton’s impeachment.

First, a look at the eight current Republican senators who were members of the House in 1998-99. All eight voted in favor of the articles of impeachment against Clinton.

Roy Blunt (Missouri)

"No president can be allowed to subvert the judiciary or thwart the investigative responsibility of the legislature," Blunt said, adding that Clinton had committed "serious felonious acts that strike at the heart of our judicial system. [...] Violating these oaths or causing others to impede the investigation into such acts are serious matters that meet the standard for impeachment."

Mike Crapo (Idaho)

"Our entire legal system is dependent on our ability to find the truth. That is why perjury and obstruction of justice are crimes," Crapo said. "Perjury and obstruction of justice are public crimes that strike at the heart of the rule of law — and therefore our freedom — in America."

Lindsey Graham (South Carolina)

He was one of the House impeachment managers in Clinton’s trial. "He doesn't have to say, 'Go lie for me,' to be a crime. He doesn't have to say, 'Let's obstruct justice,' for it to be a crime. You judge people on their conduct, not a magic phrase," Graham said. “[Impeachment is] not about punishment. Impeachment is about cleansing the office. Impeachment is about restoring honor and integrity to the office."

Jerry Moran (Kansas)

"I choose to be on the side that says no person is above the law; that this is a nation of laws, not men; that telling the truth matters; and that we should expect our public officials to conduct themselves in compliance with the highest ethical standards," Moran said.

Rob Portman (Ohio)

Portman said, “For myself, I believe the evidence of serious wrongdoing is simply too compelling to be swept aside. I am particularly troubled by the clear evidence of lying under oath in that it must be the bedrock of our judicial system.” He followed up with a press statement after he had voted, saying: “Committing perjury, obstructing justice and abusing the power of the presidency violate the rule of law that all citizens—even the president—must obey.”

John Thune (South Dakota)

Thune said, "There is one standard of justice that applies equally to all, and to say or do otherwise will undermine the most sacred of all American ideals. President Clinton has committed federal crimes, and there must be a reckoning, or no American shall ever again be prosecuted for those same crimes."

Richard Burr (North Carolina)

Burr said, "The United States is a nation of laws, not men. And I do not believe we can ignore the facts or disregard the constitution so that the president can be placed above the law."

Roger Wicker (Mississippi)

Wicker said that if Clinton urged Monica Lewinsky to lie, it "would amount to a federal felony, and that would mean serious, serious problems for President Clinton."

And here are the six Republicans who were in the Senate in 1998-99 and voted to convict Clinton:

Chuck Grassley (Iowa)

Grassley said that Clinton's “misdeeds have caused many to mistrust elected officials. Cynicism is swelling among the grass roots. His breach of trust has eroded the public's faith in the office of the presidency." The "true tragedy" of the case, he said, was "the collapse of the president's moral authority." He co-signed a statement during the impeachment proceedings pointing out that federal law "criminalizes anyone who corruptly persuades or engages in misleading conduct with the intent to influence the testimony of any person in an official proceeding."

Mike Enzi (Wyoming)

Bill Clinton "was intending to influence the testimony of a likely witness in a federal civil rights proceeding," Enzi said. "President Clinton was, in fact, trying to get Betty Currie to join him in his web of deception and obstruction of justice."

Jim Inhofe (Oklahoma)

Along with five other Republican senators, including Jeff Sessions and Pat Roberts, Inhofe signed a statement during the impeachment proceedings nothing that federal law "criminalizes anyone who corruptly persuades or engages in misleading conduct with the intent to influence the testimony of any person in an official proceeding."

Mitch McConnell (Kentucky)

McConnell said in a statement, "Do we want to retain President Clinton in office, or do we want to retain our honor, our principle, and our moral authority? For me, and for many members in my impeachment-fatigued party, I choose honor." He added, "The president of the United States looked 270 million Americans in the eye, and lied, deliberately and methodically. He took an oath to faithfully execute the laws of this nation, and he violated that oath. He pledged to be the nation's chief law enforcement officer, and he violated that pledge. He took an oath to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, and he willfully and repeatedly violated that oath."

Pat Roberts (Kansas)

In a statement, Roberts said that Clinton had sought to block the investigation into his actions. "Do these actions rise to the level envisioned by our founding fathers in the Constitution as 'high crimes and misdemeanors' so warranting removal from office? Our Constitution requires that the threshold for that judgment must be set by each senator sitting as a juror. Again, I believe an open-minded individual applying Kansas common sense would reach the conclusion that I reached."

Richard Shelby (Alabama)

The senator said after voting, “After reviewing the evidence, I believe that the House managers proved beyond a reasonable doubt that President Clinton obstructed justice. Therefore, I voted for his conviction and removal for the offenses charged in Article II. However, I do not believe that the House managers met the legal requirements of proving perjury beyond a reasonable doubt. Therefore, I voted against conviction and removal for the offenses charged in Article I.”

For your reading displeasure, let me also include the words of then-Sen. Jeff Sessions, since he could return to the Senate next year:

It has been proven beyond a reasonable doubt and to a moral certainty that President William Jefferson Clinton perjured himself before a federal grand jury and has persisted in a continuous pattern of lying and obstructing justice. The chief law enforcement officer of the land, whose oath of office calls on him to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution, crossed the line and failed to defend and protect the law and, in fact, attacked the law and the rights of a fellow citizen. Under our Constitution, equal justice requires that he forfeit his office. For these reasons, I felt compelled to vote to convict and remove the President from office. ...

“It is crucial to our system of justice that we demand the truth. I fear that an acquittal of this president will weaken the legal system by providing an option for those who consider being less than truthful in court. Whereas the handling of the case against President Nixon clearly strengthened the nation's respect for law, justice and truth, the Clinton impeachment may unfortunately have the opposite result.