If Richard Burr decides to give up this whole being a senator thing, he might pitch himself as a television host for the stock-market-obsessed television network CNBC. Mr. Burr, a Republican senator from North Carolina who chairs the Intelligence Committee, made some startlingly prescient market moves before the onset of the COVID-19 crisis, which has seen U.S. indices drop some 30 percent. Unless the man is in secret possession of Warren Buffett-levels of financial genius, his moves were just a little too prescient, we suspect.
Mr. Burr “sold off a significant percentage of his stocks, unloading between $628,000 and $1.72 million of his holdings on Feb. 13 in 33 separate transactions,” the non-profit news agency Pro Publica reported Thursday. “As the head of the intelligence committee, Burr 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.”
That’s tawdry enough. Even worse, Mr. Burr was throughout February telegraphing different messages regarding the coronavirus depending on his audience. To a group of donors, Mr. Burr warned that the coronavirus was “akin to the 1918 [Spanish Flu] pandemic” that killed millions, according to leaked audio obtained by National Public Radio. On the website of Fox News, meanwhile, he was busy assuring readers that “the United States today is better prepared than ever before to face emerging public health threats, like the coronavirus.”
If you’re thinking there ought to be a law against members of Congress making financial moves based on non-public information, you’re in luck. The STOCK Act, passed with overwhelming bipartisan margins in 2012, would seem to prohibit just the kind of actions that Mr. Burr took.
It appears that another senator, Republican Kelly Loeffler of Georgia, may have made similar moves — she too sold stock and, curiously, bought stock in a company that specializes in online tele-conferencing of the kind that is currently booming. She too should be under scrutiny over her actions. Ms. Loeffler claims the trades were made by a blind trustee — she should now offer proof of this.
Mr. Burr’s defense of his actions has been weak to non-existent. The NPR report based on leaked audio, he charged, was “tabloid” journalism, without bothering to note what exactly it had gotten wrong. (And by the way, can we stop using “tabloid” as an epithet? It was the tabloid journalists at the National Enquirer who uncovered the existence of Democratic sleazebag John Edwards’ love child.) His defense of his suspicious stock trades was even worse: A flack for Mr. Burr noted that the moves had been made prior to the current market volatility. Um, yes that’s precisely the point.
Tucker Carlson, the Fox News host who is reputed to have a direct channel to President Trump, put it well on Thursday evening. “He must resign from the Senate and face prosecution for insider trading,” Mr. Carlson said of Mr. Burr. “There is no greater crime than betraying your country in a time of crisis.”
The president should listen to Tucker Carlson and demand Mr. Burr’s resignation. Such a move would have zero political cost either, and, we suspect, actually benefit him. (North Carolina’s governor would be mandated to appoint another Republican.)
It’s not as if Richard Burr is a particularly notable Republican senator; his name is on no memorable legislation, nor has he carved out an interesting ideological niche like, say, Josh Hawley of Missouri. A replacement-level senator would be better. The Republicans should remove this burr from their saddle.
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