As head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Sen. Richard Burr would have had access to some of the country’s most highly classified information.
Days after he assured the public that the government was prepared for the coronavirus, Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina sold off between $582,029 and $1.56 million of his stock holdings, ProPublica reported Thursday.
In a Feb. 7 op-ed, Burr promised the public that “the United States today is better prepared than ever before to face emerging public health threats, like the coronavirus … No matter the outbreak or threat, Congress and the federal government have been vigilant in identifying gaps in its readiness efforts and improving its response capabilities.”
On Feb. 13, less than a week after the publication of that op-ed, Burr sold off his stocks in 29 separate transactions, according to ProPublica. A week later, the stock market began to crash, resulting in a 30% decline in its value in the past month.
Burr’s sell-off includes shares of companies that are particularly vulnerable to the economic damage being caused by the coronavirus. For example, he sold off as much as $150,000 worth of shares of Wyndham Hotels and Resorts, a U.S.-based company that has lost 63% of its value in the past month. Burr also unloaded up to $100,000 worth of shares of Extended Stay America, a company focused on long-term hotel stays that has lost nearly half of its value in the last month.
As chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Burr has access to the government’s most highly classified national security information, and was receiving daily coronavirus briefings around the same time he unloaded his stocks, according to Reuters.
ProPublica’s report comes hours after NPR published a secret recording from Feb. 27, in which Burr struck a much more dire tone about the coronavirus, telling VIP attendees of an exclusive social club that the disease was dangerous.
“There’s one thing that I can tell you about this: It is much more aggressive in its transmission than anything that we have seen in recent history … It is probably more akin to the 1918 pandemic,” Burr reportedly told attendees of the luncheon held at the Capitol Hill Club.
He also warned that businesses might be seriously affected and that the coronavirus could affect the economy.
“Every company should be cognizant of the fact that you may have to alter your travel,” Burr said. “You may have to look at your employees and judge whether the trip that they’re making to Europe is essential, or whether it can be done by video conference. Why risk it?”
Members of Congress are legally obligated to disclose their any transactions involving stocks and Burr complied with the law.
“Senator Burr filed a financial disclosure form for personal transactions made several weeks before the U.S. and financial markets showed signs of volatility due to the growing coronavirus outbreak,” Burr’s spokesperson told ProPublica. “As the situation continues to evolve daily, he has been deeply concerned by the steep and sudden toll this pandemic is taking on our economy.”
Burr’s Feb. 13 sell-off represented his largest selling day of the past 14 months, according to a ProPublica review of Senate records, and likely saved him hundreds of thousands of dollars.