On February 13, just as the coronavirus crisis was starting to take shape in the United States, Republican Senator Richard Burr — chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee and a close ally of Donald Trump — sold off somewhere between $582,029 and $1.56 million of his investments in stocks, according to a report from nonprofit investigative news organization ProPublica. As the outlet wrote on Thursday, the senator allegedly did so even as he was issuing statements saying that the Trump administration was “actively implementing” measures to protect the public from the viral outbreak.
Though Burr sought to reassure Americans that United States public health officials were acting “swiftly and decisively” to curb the coronavirus pandemic in a February 7 op-ed for Fox News, he was purportedly singing a different tune to a group of wealthy donors in private.
On February 27, Burr reportedly told a group of donors and business constituents that the coronavirus outbreak would be “akin to the 1918 pandemic,” a global outbreak of influenza that killed 675,000 Americans and is widely considered the worst of its kind in U.S. history.
Burr’s private remarks came two weeks after he unloaded his stocks in 29 separate transactions, according to the ProPublica report. Because of his role in the White House, he reportedly received daily briefings on the coronavirus pandemic, including highly classified information not available to the public.
Last month, Trump was also seen as downplaying the severity of the impact that the coronavirus would likely have on the U.S. On February 26 — one day before Burr supposedly delivered his dire warnings to wealthy donors — the president claimed that there were only 15 cases of COVID-19 in the country and that number “within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero,” as quoted by The Washington Post.
On February 14 — the day after Burr allegedly dumped his stocks — Trump reassured Americans there was only “a very small number of people in the country, right now, with it,” and the country was in “very good shape,” with regard to the outbreak.
But the stock market fell throughout late February and into March. On Wednesday, the Dow Jones industrial average dipped below 19,600, wiping out all of the gains in stock value made during the three years of Trump’s term in office. The market rebounded slightly on Thursday, pushing over 20,000 by closing time.
The sharpest drops on Wall Street began about one week after Burr’s fire sale of his stock holdings, according to the ProPublica report. Since then, the Dow has dropped a whopping 30 percent.
But a Burr spokesperson quoted by ProPublica called the GOP senator’s stock sales “personal transactions made several weeks before” the drops triggered by coronavirus fears took effect.