Last-minute reprieve
January 20, 2021

Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) said Tuesday that the Justice Department has informed him it will not prosecute him for insider trading, making him the last of five senators known to have been investigated for selling stocks right before the market crashed when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Burr sold up to $1.7 million worth of stock on Feb. 13, 2020, days after receiving briefings on the emerging coronavirus threat. Burr at the time was chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee and a member of the Senate health committee.

Burr has acknowledged he sold the shares because of the pandemic, but says he was guided solely by public news sources, specifically CNBC's Asia health and science reporting. After the FBI executed a search warrant and seized his cellphone in May, he stepped down as chairman of the Intelligence Committee. Democrats take control of the Senate on Wednesday, and it's unclear if Burr will seek the top GOP slot on either the intelligence or health committees now that the investigation is over.

Three of the other senators investigated for possible insider trading — Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.), James Inhofe (R-Okla.), and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) — were cleared in May. An investigation into Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.)'s stock trades expanded but then was closed in August, The New York Times reports. Perdue and Loeffler were both defeated in special elections earlier this month and their Democratic successors will be sworn in Wednesday.

Burr has already said he plans to step down after his term ends in 2022, but the timing of his exculpation, on the final day of the Trump administration, raised some eyebrows. President Trump was not a fan of Burr, who led a bipartisan investigation into Russia's interference in the 2016 election, though Burr will now sit as a juror in Trump's second impeachment trial.

It was always a steep climb for prosecutors to prove criminality in congressional insider trading cases, The Washington Post reports. "The law under which Burr was investigated — the Stock Act, which prohibits members of Congress and other federal officials from trading on information they glean from their government work — has not been used as the basis for a criminal charge since it was passed in 2012." Peter Weber

See More Speed Reads