The Corrupt Senators and Coronavirus

PHOTO: The Hill/Greg Nash

By Daniel Larison | 19 March 2020

THE AMERICAN CONSERVATIVE — Rod Dreher called attention to the initial NPR report that Sen. Richard Burr, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, warned big money donors about the likely severity of the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S. at a private meeting while saying none of this to the public:

This top Senate Republican (and no doubt other Senate Republicans) knew that the president was misleading the public, and said nothing. If he felt comfortable telling wealthy donors about this, why didn’t he tell the general public? Because it would contradict the president’s messaging? Why?

The original NPR story reflects very poorly on Burr. He not only gave preferential treatment to donors, but he failed to alert the public to what he knew in a timely fashion. Even if he were doing this for merely cynical political reasons to stay on Trump’s good side, it would be a dereliction of duty. But there is more to the story. ProPublica has learned more damning details that show that Burr sold more than $1 million worth in stock in the weeks prior to the market crash based on the advance information that he and other senators possessed following a briefing in late January:

Soon after he offered public assurances that the government was ready to battle the coronavirus, the powerful chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Richard Burr, sold off a significant percentage of his stocks, unloading between $628,000 and $1.72 million of his holdings on Feb. 13 in 33 separate transactions.

As the head of the intelligence committee, Burr, a North Carolina Republican, has access to the government’s most highly classified information about threats to America’s security. His committee was receiving daily coronavirus briefings around this time, according to a Reuters story.

A week after Burr’s sales, the stock market began a sharp decline and has lost about 30% since.

Burr allegedly used privileged information that he received as as an elected official for his own private benefit. It appears that Burr withheld what he knew from the public, and he made sure to pull a lot of money out of the market because he knew the effect that the outbreak was going to have before almost everyone else. This represents not only a serious breach of the public’s trust, but it is also a flagrant example of corruption of public office for personal gain. The senator needs to resign, and if charges can be brought against him they should be. […]

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