Sen. Richard Burr profited from stock sell-off as GOP played down coronavirus threat
WASHINGTON — Sen. Richard Burr sold hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of stock in major companies last month as President Donald Trump and others in his party were still playing down the threat presented by the coronavirus outbreak and before the stock market’s precipitous plunge.
The stocks were sold in mid-February, days after Burr, R-North Carolina and chairman of the Intelligence Committee, wrote an opinion piece for Fox News suggesting that the United States was “better prepared than ever before” to confront the virus.
Two weeks after the sales, Burr spoke at the Capitol Hill Club in Washington to a nonpartisan group called the Tar Heel Club, warning that the virus could soon cause a major disruption in the United States.
The gathering, which drew fewer than 100 people, included representatives from the North Carolina governor’s office, as well as staff members from other congressional offices in the state.
“There’s one thing that I can tell you about this — it is much more aggressive in its transmission than anything we have seen in recent history,” Burr said, according to a recording obtained by NPR, which reported on his remarks Thursday. “It’s probably more akin to the 1918 pandemic.”
He added: “Every company should be cognizant of the fact that you may have to alter your travel. You may have to look at your employees and judge whether the trip they’re making to Europe is essential or whether it can be done on video conference.”
Burr has long pushed for the United States to better prepare for the threat presented by pandemics, including sponsoring legislation that Congress passed in 2006 called the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act.
“His message has always been, and continues to be, that we must be prepared to protect American lives in the event of a pandemic or bio-attack,” Caitlin Carroll, a spokeswoman for Burr, said in a statement.
“Since early February, whether in constituent meetings or open hearings, he has worked to educate the public about the tools and resources our government has to confront the spread of coronavirus.”
In a series of posts on Twitter, Burr accused NPR of twisting his comments into a “tabloid-style hit piece.” He argued that the report made him look duplicitous for sharing information at a publicly advertised event that was consistent with the message members of the Trump administration were then trying to promulgate. He did not address his stock sales.
As the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Burr receives regular briefings on threats to the United States, including the coronavirus. He is also a member of the Senate health committee, which in January hosted a briefing with top Trump administration officials open to all senators.
The record of Burr’s stock transaction shows that Feb. 13 he and his wife sold 33 different stocks, which were collectively worth $628,000 to $1.7 million, according to the disclosures filed with the secretary of the Senate. Those sales include as much as $150,000 worth of stock in two hotel chains, Wyndham Hotels and Resorts and Extended Stay America. The value of both companies has declined significantly in recent weeks. He also sold as much as $65,000 worth of stock in Park Hotels & Resorts.