One of the senators caught up in a quickly growing coronavirus controversy has asked the Senate Ethics Committee to look into his actions. Sen. Richard Burr is among lawmakers under fire for selling off a lot of their personal stocks just before the market began to tank. Burr in particular is taking flak because he chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee and thus is privy to confidential briefings—and he had publicly expressed confidence in the nation's ability to handle the outbreak, reports the Washington Post. Burr, a North Carolina Republican, responded in a tweet Friday that sought to downplay any wrongdoing:
- Burr responds: "I relied solely on public news reports to guide my decision regarding the sale of stocks on February 13,” he wrote, citing reports on CNBC out of Asia. "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.”
- 2 in the clear? Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein and GOP Sens. Kelly Loeffler and James Inhofe also sold hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of stock before the market meltdown, reports the Hill. But David Leonhardt of the New York Times writes that the trades of Inhofe and Feinstein don't seem suspicious. The stocks of Feinstein, who has said she wasn't at a January classified briefing that has been widely cited, were in a blind trust, "which means she didn’t make the decision to sell." (Also, her trades actually lost money.) Inhofe’s trades, meanwhile, "were part of a systematic selling of stocks that he started after he became chairman of the Armed Services Committee." Leonhardt writes that Burr and Loeffler don't have such explanations.
- Calls to resign: Tucker Carlson of Fox News is among the most vocal critics of Burr's actions. Carlson said he was waiting to see if Burr had an "honest explanation"—this was before the senator's Friday tweet. "Otherwise, he must resign from the Senate and face prosecution for insider trading," said Carlson. "There is no greater moral crime than betraying your country in a time of crisis." Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez also called for Burr's resignation, notes Business Insider.
- The op-ed: Burr co-wrote this op-ed for Fox News on February 7. "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," it states. Burr never clarified those public comments as the situation grew worse.
- The speech: Burr sold off most of the stocks (up to $1.7 million) on Feb. 13, just before giving a closed-door VIP speech in DC in which he likened the virus to the 1918 flu pandemic and said it would have dire effects on the US, per the AP. Among other things, he predicted school closures and big cutbacks in company travel. He sold off stocks in many businesses soon to be hard hit, including the hospitality industry. (The scoop on these developments came from NPR and Pro Publica.)