Senator Richard Burr responded to reports that he used classified information when he decided to offload up to $1.6 million of his personal stocks prior to the market’s dive by calling on the Senate Ethics Committee to investigate his trading history. The North Carolina Republican released a statement through his Twitter account, denying that any classified information related to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) impacted his decision.
“I relied solely on public news reports to guide my decision regarding the sale of stocks on February 13… Understanding the assumption many could make in hindsight however, I spoke this morning with the chairman of the Senate Ethics Committee and asked him to open a complete review of the matter with full transparency.”
Burr touted the United States’ strength in handling rising coronavirus cases as recently as February, when he wrote an op-ed claiming America was “better prepared than ever before” to face public health threats. The stocks Burr sold included $150,000 worth of shares of Wyndham Hotels and Resorts, which has lost two-thirds of its value, and $100,000 of shares in the hotel chain Extended Stay America, according to an NBC News report.
Burr currently chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, a fact which aroused suspicion that he may have had earlier knowledge of the impact the COVID-19 pandemic could have on the economy. The senator claimed his decision to sell his stocks came from publicly available information provided by CNBC’s Asia bureaus. Senators Kelly Loeffler, James Inhofe, and Dianne Feinstein also sold off significant stock holdings following a classified briefing with Trump administration officials — a meeting related to the coronavirus — on January 24. The intelligence from that briefing, and those that followed in February, remains classified, making it unclear what warnings were given at the time.
The news of Burr’s transactions on the stock market caused controversy amongst his peers, with several Democrat politicians criticizing the senator on Twitter. New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez called on Burr to resign in a tweet that alleges he was informed of the virus’ impact “weeks ago.”
“Burr knew how bad it would be. He told the truth to his wealthy donors, while assuring the public that we were fine. THEN he sold off $1.6 million in stock before the fall. He needs to resign.”
Texas Congressman Joaquin Castro, who is a member of the House Intelligence Committee, tweeted that Burr should suspend his chairmanship of the Senate Intelligence Committee pending an investigation into his trading history.