Republican Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina unloaded hundreds of thousands of dollars in stocks shortly after publicly downplaying the enormous risk of the novel coronavirus, ProPublica reported.
According to the investigation, Burr dumped between $628,000 and $1.72 million in holdings shortly after reassuring the public that the US was well prepared to respond to the coronavirus.
Burr is the chairman of the powerful Senate Intelligence Committee, which has access to the federal government’s most classified and sensitive information. According to Reuters, Burr’s committee was getting daily briefings on the threat of the coronavirus around the time he dumped his stock.
In a February 7 op-ed for Fox News, Burr — along with Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee — acknowledged that “Americans are rightfully concerned about the coronavirus” at a time when the number of cases in China were still skyrocketing.
The senators also wrote, “Thankfully, the United States today is better prepared than ever before to face emerging public health threats, like the coronavirus, in large part due to the work of the Senate Health Committee, Congress, and the Trump Administration.”
According to Burr’s financial disclosure form, he started dumping stock on February 13, six days after writing that op-ed.
He made a total of 33 separate transactions. Seven of those were for amounts between $1,001 and $15,000, 15 transactions were for amounts between $15,001 and $50,000, and seven were for amounts between $50,001 and $100,000.
ProPublica’s report came hours after NPR reported it had obtained a recording that features Burr raising dire concerns about the coronavirus to members of a private Washington club.
“There’s one thing I can tell you about this: It is much more aggressive in its transmission than anything we have seen in recent history. It’s probably more akin to the 1918 pandemic,” Burr said in the recording, according to NPR.
“Every company should be cognizant of the fact that you may have to alter your travel,” Burr added. “You may have to look at your employees and judge whether the trip they’re making to Europe is essential or whether it could be done on video conference. Why risk it?”
On Thursday night, Burr defended his decision to talk to the club in a lengthy Twitter thread and accused NPR of “journalistic malpractice.” He did not address the ProPublica report, however.
In a statement to ProPublica, a spokesperson for Burr said: “Senator Burr filed a financial disclosure form for personal transactions made several weeks before the U.S. and financial markets showed signs of volatility due to the growing coronavirus outbreak. As the situation continues to evolve daily, he has been deeply concerned by the steep and sudden toll this pandemic is taking on our economy.”