GOP Sen. Richard Burr's response to coronavirus insider-trading reports ranges from weak denial to 'lol'

Sen. Richard Burr
(Image credit: Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, responded Thursday night to two damaging reports showing his bifurcated public-private responses to the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak.

First, NPR News reported that Burr had issued a dire warning about the coronavirus at a Feb. 27 private luncheon in North Carolina at the same time he was publicly more upbeat about America's preparedness for a pandemic. Then, ProPublica examined Burr's new financial disclosure forms and found that he sold between $628,000 and $1.72 million of his stock holdings in 33 separate transactions on Feb. 13, his largest stock selling day in at least 14 months. The stock market has since plummeted about 30 percent.

Burr called NPR's article, which included a recording of his comments, a "tabloid-style hit piece" that left the wrong impression Americans weren't properly warned about the coronavirus, citing tepid comments from President Trump and other officials. Burr spokeswoman Caitlin Carroll responded to the reports of possible insider trading by noting that "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." When NPR asked about Burr's stock sales, Carroll replied: "lol."

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Burr was one of only three senators who voted against the 2012 STOCK Act, which requires senators and their staff to regularly disclose their stock trades and explicitly bars them from using nonpublic information for buying and selling shares. In 2009, after hearing a report about banking troubles from Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, Burr publicly recalled telling his wife "to go to the ATM machine, and I want you to draw out everything it will let you take." Fox News host Tucker Carlson and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) were among those who called on Burr to explain or resign.

Trump, who isn't friendly with Burr, watches Carlson's show regularly and is known to value his opinion. At the same time, Burr isn't the only GOP senator who made questionable stock sales while downplaying the virus, and this scandal may yet end up hitting closer to home. Peter Weber

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