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Calls Grow for Sen. Burr to Resign After He Sold $1.7 Million in Stocks & Downplayed COVID-19 Risks

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Calls are growing for Republican Senator Richard Burr to resign after he reportedly sold up to $1.7 million worth of stocks after receiving privileged briefings about the coronavirus’s threat to the global economy. ProPublica reports Burr, the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, unloaded his holdings on February 13 in 33 separate transactions. At the time, he had access to classified information about the coronavirus and was receiving daily intelligence briefings. The stock market began plummeting a week after Burr’s sales and has since lost about 30% of its value. We speak with Derek Willis of ProPublica, one of the reporters who broke the story.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González. Calls are growing for Republican Senator Richard Burr to resign, after he reportedly sold up to $1.7 million worth of stock after receiving privileged briefings about the coronavirus threat to the global community months ago. ProPublica reports Burr, the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, unloaded his holdings on February 13th in 33 separate transactions. At the time, he had access to classified information about the coronavirus and was receiving daily intelligence briefings. The stock market began plummeting a week later.

The news came after NPR published a secretly recorded audiotape of Senator Burr addressing business leaders and members of the elite Tar Heel Circle at a luncheon in Washington on February 27th, when the U.S. had just 15 confirmed coronavirus cases.

SEN. RICHARD BURR: It is much more aggressive in its transmission than anything that we have seen in recent history. It’s probably more akin to the 1918 pandemic.

AMY GOODMAN: Senator Burr said, quote, “It is much more aggressive in its transmission than anything that we have seen in recent history. It’s probably more akin to the 1918 pandemic.” Burr’s actions sparked condemnation across the political spectrum, from Democratic Congressmember Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York to Fox News host Tucker Carlson.

Well, for more, we’re joined by one of the reporters who broke this story, Derek Willis of ProPublica.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Derek, again, joining us on Democracy Now! video stream from his home, as so many of our guests are, to protect themselves and the community from COVID-19. Juan with us from his home in New Brunswick, New Jersey. Derek, talk about what you found. And it’s not only Senator Burr, but talk about what he did.

DEREK WILLIS: Sure. Well, Senator Burr, as you said, traded, made 33 separate sales transactions on February 13th of stock holdings. Now, because of the way that these stock trades are reported, we don’t know the exact amounts. We have a range of amounts. And so, the amounts here, they range in total between $628,000 to up to $1.7 million of value. And the thing about this is, Senator Burr is not the only senator or member of Congress to trade in stocks. He’s not the only person to sell stocks this year. But the volume of his trades and the timing of it, and in addition to what NPR reported about his public and private comments, they really set him apart compared to a lot of his colleagues in terms of sort of the uniqueness of his situation. As the chair of the Intelligence Committee, Senator Burr was getting, as you said, classified briefings about threats to the nation, including from coronavirus, in the weeks before he made these trades.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Derek, I wanted to ask you specifically about that. Were there particular hearings that he was privy to just before these trades occurred?

DEREK WILLIS: We don’t know exactly what was said in these briefings. There was a Senate-wide briefing late in January about coronavirus and what it could mean, that was available to all senators. Senator Burr did attend that briefing. Not every senator did. But that wasn’t a classified briefing in the same way that Intelligence Committee briefings are. And so, the part of this that we don’t know is we don’t know what he learned in some of those classified briefings. He has said that his trades were based on public information, what he simply saw on CNBC or other networks that talked about sort of the financial aspects of — the financial impacts of coronavirus.

AMY GOODMAN: And can you talk about the other senators? You did say, you know, people do sell, whether or not they have privileged information, but Republicans James Inhofe of Oklahoma; Kelly Loeffler, the new senator from Georgia; Ron Johnson of Wisconsin — Loeffler married to the chair and CEO of the New York Stock Exchange.

DEREK WILLIS: That’s right. And I think, like I said, I want to make clear that, like, Senator Burr’s were sort of in a class by themselves. But with Senator Loeffler, obviously, sort of one of the interesting aspects there is the fact, her connection to the New York Stock Exchange and through her husband. Her investments, I think, are different in some respects, in that they are — they appear to be, at least, from everything that we know and what she has said — they are traded by someone else, and she is informed of the trade after the fact. That’s actually not uncommon for members of Congress, particularly those with significant wealth, to have sort of a third party do the trades for them. Of course, you know, we’re relying on their say-so.

AMY GOODMAN: Derek, we only have a minute, but Burr has called for an ethics investigation to exonerate him. But also if you can say — I mean, so he had this information. I guess the question is also: What was he telling his constituents or the entire country at the time that President Trump was hardly taking action at this point, certainly when it came to tests and availability of protective gear, etc.?

DEREK WILLIS: Right. The message he was putting out was essentially that the United States is in a good position to act against or to mitigate the effects of this virus, while at the same time he was selling these stocks.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we want to thank you so much, Derek Willis, reporter from ProPublica. Just to end with, The Wall Street Journal reporting Tuesday, corporate executives sold over $9 billion worth of stocks between the beginning of February and the end of last week. Jeff Bezos sold the most, of the executives, 3% of his Amazon shares, worth $3.4 billion.

And that does it for our show. Democracy Now! is produced by an amazing team, most of whom who are working from home to protect themselves and the community. Democracy Now! has an amazing team of committed producers and staff. Thanks so much to Mike Burke, Renée Feltz, Deena Guzder, Nermeen Shaikh, Carla Wills, Tami Woronoff, Libby Rainey, Sam Alcoff, John Hamilton, Robby Karran, Hany Massoud, Charina Nadura, Tey-Marie Astudillo, Adriano Contreras, María Taracena, Julie Crosby, Denis Moynihan, Miriam Barnard, Mike DiFilippo, Miguel Nogueira. Special thanks to Becca Staley. Juan González, joining us from New Brunswick. I’m Amy Goodman in New York.

The original content of this program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Please attribute legal copies of this work to democracynow.org. Some of the work(s) that this program incorporates, however, may be separately licensed. For further information or additional permissions, contact us.

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