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.

[...]

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.


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