Richard Burr has been cleared in one investigation into possible insider trading in the early days of the pandemic, but another probe has unearthed new problems for North Carolina’s senior U.S. senator. And as new revelations reminded us recently, his worst transgression might not be what he did when COVID-19 first threatened his state and country. It’s what he didn’t do.
New details arose Oct. 28 regarding a Securities and Exchange Commission investigation into possible insider trading by Burr.
According to an SEC filing first reported by ProPublica, Burr possessed “material nonpublic information” regarding the incoming economic impact of the virus when he dumped roughly $1.6 million in stocks in February 2020.
After doing so, he called his brother-in-law, the filing says — and the very next minute, Burr’s brother-in-law called his stock broker.
Burr’s big sale was previously the subject of an investigation by the Justice Department, who informed the senator in January that it would not pursue charges against him.
But he — and his brother-in-law — remain under investigation by the SEC. And despite having an estimated net worth of $7.4 million in 2018, Burr has been raising big money to help foot his hefty legal bills.
Thirty-three current or former U.S. senators, as well as other sitting members of Congress, have contributed to the Richard Burr Legal Expense Trust Fund as of September, the News & Observer reported. The fund has raised more than $524,000 and paid $565,000 to Latham & Watkins, a major law firm.
Perhaps Burr thought that the stain of his actions would wash away with time. It hasn’t. We said last year that Burr’s actions were an affront to North Carolinians and embarrassing to the state, and nothing has changed our mind.
Regardless of whether the SEC concludes that his actions were criminal, he has failed as a public servant, profiting off of a deadly virus while failing to convey to the public the seriousness of the threat it posed.
A reminder of what Burr did and didn’t do: According to reports last year, members of Congress had been receiving “ominous, classified warnings” from U.S. intelligence agencies about the danger posed by COVID as early as January and February.
Publicly, Burr was co-authoring op-eds reassuring the public that the United States was prepared to confront the virus.
Privately, though, he seemed to be suggesting otherwise. Fourteen days after dumping his stocks, Burr also warned members of the Tar Heel Circle, a nonpartisan group of North Carolina businesses and organizations, at a February 2020 luncheon that the coronavirus would spread rapidly, and that it was “probably more akin to the 1918 pandemic.”
Still, he didn’t share that assessment with the general public, even as then-president Donald Trump downplayed the situation, hindering the nation’s early pandemic response.
His assessment wasn’t wrong. As of September, COVID-19 has surpassed the 1918 Spanish flu to become the deadliest pandemic in American history, with more than 743,000 lives lost thus far.
Still, Burr has yet to take responsibility for not sharing that knowledge publicly, or for using it to benefit financially.
He’s offered little through public statements but has claimed that he “relied solely on public news reports to guide my decision regarding the sale of stocks on February 13.” That’s something the SEC filing seems to dispute.
Though Burr has long planned to step down in 2022, he ought to consider taking an earlier retirement.
No matter what happens during the last year of his term, he will continue to be a politician who broke his commitment to serve and protect us when we needed him most.
North Carolinians deserved better than that.
The editorial appeared in the Charlotte Observer
on Oct. 31.