Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina will step down as chair of the Senate Intelligence after the FBI seized his cell phone and searched his home as part of their investigation into his coronavirus insider trading. The Justice Department had been examining Burr’s sale of 33 stocks, close to $1.72 million in value, in February. This was after senators received information about the national threat of coronavirus before most Americans were warned about the looming economic crisis. The stocks sold were of those that would hit hard by the pandemic, such as restaurant and hotel industries. Although Burr has stated that he “relied solely on public news reports to guide [his] decision,” the FBI is skeptical.
The Trump administration will likely avoid involvement in this, either by actively trying to aid the FBI investigation or by coming to the defense of Burr. This political scandal has virtually no wins for the Republicans and could potentially be damaging if it is proven that top level officials were cognizant of the potential devastation of the coronavirus. A former Trump advisor predicted that “getting involved could hurt him politically.” Trump said that he had not talked about the investigation with the Justice Department, stating, “I knew nothing about it, nothing about it.”
North Carolina is crucial for Trump to win reelection, so Trump was restrained in discussing the situation at hand. In North Carolina, the governor is required to appoint someone of the same party as the senator, if he indeed resigns. Thus, appointing a Republican after Burr’s resignation could eventually cause Trump to speak out. Burr’s decision raises questions about the Russia investigation and its final stages, as Burr had been wrapping up a report for the public regarding it. This report was the cause of some hostility between Donald Trump Jr. and Burr, so it is unlikely that Trump would push for Burr to finish out his to finish out his term.
The criticism coming from the right side seems more directed at Burr not being loyal to President Trump, whereas the left-leaning side is focused on attacking the stock sales and Burr’s warnings to private donors. Wayne Goodwin, Chairman of the North Carolina Democratic Party, said that “as the criminal investigation into Senator Burr escalates, it’s clear that he can no longer try to sweep his apparent illegal trading under the rug.” Senator Thom Tillis, R-N.C., believes Burr owes an explanation to his state’s citizens but has deferred action to the Senate Ethics committee. To this, a N.C. Democratic Party spokesperson said, “What will it take before Senator Tillis and North Carolina Republicans demand some actual accountability from Senator Burr?” Many people also claim this FBI action as another example of U.S. Attorney General William Barr influencing the Justice Department in favor of President Trump, as this investigation comes on the heels of the DOJ’s reversal on the Michael Flynn’s case. Senator Burr and Senate Intelligence vice chairman Warner had earlier said in a joint statement that the assessment “correctly found the Russians interfered in our 2016 election to hurt Secretary Clinton and help the candidacy of Donald Trump,” a stance that was controversal for Trump loyalists. However, now Burr’s actions and the FBI’s decisions could affect how these findings are discussed in the future, as they could be buried or discredited.
Burr’s alleged behavior raises serious ethics concerns and suggests that the Trump administration had knowledge of the potential severity of the pandemic long before they alerted it to the public. This could affect both parties, as Democrats have long criticized the Trump admistration for being slow to respond to the threat of the Coronavirus. This could influence Americans’ perception of their leaders, as Trump has long campaigned on distrust of corrupt political officials and this particular scandal follows comes after the implosion of the Flynn investigation and #Obamagate. We may only get a real measure of the public’s response in the November elections.