Late Wednesday, news broke that FBI investigators had served a warrant to seize Sen. Richard Burr’s cellphone at his home in Washington, D.C. The North Carolina Republican and chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence has been under scrutiny for a series of stock trades made in February after he received a classified briefings on the coronavirus epidemic spreading through Asia and Europe. Investigators have also secured a warrant to search the cloud storage for Burr’s iPhone. As of yet, Burr’s colleague—who also sold off millions in stocks—Sen. Kelly Loeffler of Georgia hasn’t had her phone seized, raising some political questions about this focus on Burr from Trump’s Department of Justice.
It definitely appears that there was insider trading going on here. What’s questionable about this is the very public and forceful move by the Justice Department. As former DOJ official Matthew Miller tweeted: “Holy moly. Showing up at the home of a U.S. Senator and executing a warrant is not business as usual and not a step the FBI would take lightly.” The fact that thus far Loeffler, a loud and proud Trump toady, appears not to be getting the same level of scrutiny raises questions.
Here we go: Burr is stepping down from his chairmanship of the SSCI.“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,” McConnell says. The next in line is very reliable Trump toady, Idaho Sen. Jim Risch. He’s also chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and he’d have to step down from it to take over SSCI. Rubio is next in line after Risch. So we’ll see what musical chairs happens now.
Investigations by reporters at NPR and ProPublica brought the trades to light as well as the fact that he had warned wealthy constituents and contributors of the coming pandemic. Further reporting from ProPublica revealed that Burr’s brother-in-law had sold off a significant number of shares at the same time Burr did. All in all, Burr and his wife sold 33 stocks valued at between $628,033 and $1.72 million. Some of those shares were in the hotel, restaurant, and shipping industries—among the sectors hit the hardest in this pandemic.
The timing of this escalation against Burr raises questions what with the current all-out attack on the Russia investigation, attempting to discredit it, restore Michael Flynn, and implicate Joe Biden in … something. Burr and his SSCI have spent that last three years investigating Russia’s election interference in 2016, with four reports released thus far and another in the works.
In fact, Burr’s committee released a report just last month, which concluded that the intelligence community’s original January 2017 assessment of Russian interference was “sound” and was reached both without political bias and using “proper analytic standards.” Overall, “the Committee found no reason to dispute the Intelligence Community’s conclusions,” Burr said in a statement about their report. That’s not the Trump party line the remainder of the Senate Republicans are enthusiastically embracing.
The other thing that Burr was intent upon reinforcing with that report was that Russia is still at it, and that the 2020 election is also in jeopardy. “With the 2020 presidential election approaching, it’s more important than ever that we remain vigilant against the threat of interference from hostile foreign actors,” Burr said in a statement released with the report.
That makes Burr really inconvenient right now to Trump and Attorney General William Barr, the guy who oversees the FBI. Barr made headlines last week when his DOJ dropped the government’s case against Michael Flynn, who had pleaded guilty to lying about his Russia ties. Barr’s weaponization of the DOJ knows no bounds, certainly not the rule of law, and it sure seems that he has no qualms including a prominent Republican committee chairman.
Seriously, is this attorney general in this administration really going to after someone for insider trading? Really?