Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) is facing fierce criticism for selling off a significant portion of his stocks, even as he was reassuring the public that the government was ready to handle the battle against the coronavirus.
But in 2008, during the financial crisis, he did something similar.
On Feb. 13, he unloaded between $628,000 and $1.72 million of his holdings. But just three days earlier, he had co-authored an op-ed with a more optimistic message, saying “the United States today is better prepared than ever before to face emerging public health threats, like the coronavirus.”
As a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Burr was receiving daily updates on the coronavirus. His sell-off came before the markets began tanking ― meaning, before much of the public began to realize what was going on.
Burr’s message behind closed doors was less optimistic than what he had written in that Feb. 3 op-ed. On Feb. 27, he gave a speech to business leaders in North Carolina ― a group whose membership costs up to $100,000 ― where he warned attendees about what was coming. He said they might have to curtail travel and that the government may start closing schools and mobilizing the military.
His remarks came almost two weeks before President Donald Trump’s administration began warning people about traveling to Europe.
In 2008, Burr put out a press release warning the public not to panic that Citigroup was taking over Wachovia, a bank based in North Carolina.
“Today’s news of Citigroup’s acquisition of Wachovia might be unsettling to many in North Carolina. While these are difficult times in our economy, it is important to remember that this move provides for the protection of accounts and the soundness of savings for Wachovia’s customers. FDIC has said that all services for customers should continue uninterrupted,” he said.
In other words, don’t freak out, and don’t make a run on the banks.
But that’s exactly what Burr did.
Around the same time, Burr told his wife to go to the bank and take out as much of their money as possible. He revealed his actions in another speech to business leaders in 2009.
“On Friday night, I called my wife and I said, ‘Brooke, I am not coming home this weekend. I will call you on Monday. Tonight, I want you to go to the ATM machine, and I want you to draw out everything it will let you take. And I want you to go tomorrow, and I want you to go Sunday,’” Burr told the Henderson County Chamber of Commerce at the time, referring to the 2008 incident.
He said he didn’t use any information obtained through private briefings as a senator to help his family weather the financial crisis.
Burr’s spokeswoman Caitlin Carroll initially defended the senator’s Feb. 13 stock transactions, saying he made them “several weeks before the U.S. and financial markets showed signs of volatility due to the growing coronavirus outbreak.”
That statement doesn’t really help the senator much. If he made the transactions while the financial markets were showing volatility ― in other words, while they were dropping dramatically ― there wouldn’t be an issue. But Burr conveniently dumped his stocks right before there were historic losses.
On Friday, Burr said he relied on public information ― “CNBC’s daily health and science reporting out of its Asia bureaus” in particular ― for the sale of his stocks on Feb. 13 but was asking the Senate Ethics Committee to review the transactions.
“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,” he said in a statement.
In 2012, Burr was one of three senators who opposed the STOCK Act, legislation that bars members of Congress and their staff from using nonpublic information to make financial trades.
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