RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Newly unsealed court documents reveal information about what the FBI called “well-timed” stock sales Republican U.S. Sen. Richard Burr made as the COVID-19 pandemic began.
An affidavit the agency submitted as part of a request to search Sen. Burr’s phone outlines the timing of Burr’s sales and how FBI said he benefited.
“Beginning on February 20, 2020 — six days after Senator Burr’s sale of the majority of his equity — the stock market endured a dramatic and substantial downturn. In total, Senator Burr avoided more than an estimated $87,000 in loss as a result of his well-timed stock sales, and profited more than $164,000,” an FBI affidavit said. To view the document, click below.
The senator sold more than $1.6 million in stock and released a statement in March 2020 saying he’d been following reporting by CNBC in Asia regarding the pandemic.
The documents became public following a lawsuit by the Los Angeles Times, that first reported on the investigation into Burr.
Burr’s office has not replied to a request for comment.
The documents, however, show the FBI was investigating Burr as well as his brother-in-law Gerald Fauth.
While the affidavit mentions various phone calls and text messages, the content of those is redacted.
The FBI noted Burr sold about $109,000 worth of shares in various companies on Jan. 31, 2020, just hours before Alex Azar, who was U.S. Health and Human Services secretary at the time, declared a national public health emergency due to COVID-19.
The documents also outline what happened on Feb. 13, 2020, when Burr ordered the sale of stock form his retirement account as well as his wife’s account.
“As a result of Senator Burr’s sales on February 13, 2020, his portfolio went from approximately 83 percent in equities to approximately 3 percent in equities,” the affidavit reads.
The FBI said Burr called Fauth that morning and spoke with him briefly.
Minutes after a call from Burr, Fauth called his own wealth management company. The FBI said Fauth “sounded hurried… to sell some of his stock, including stock in oil and energy companies.”
The FBI was investigating Burr for potential insider trading and securities fraud. Burr has not been charged with any crimes.
In Jan. 2021, Burr said the Dept. of Justice had informed him the investigation was over. The Securities and Exchange Commission is investigating the matter.
“I think from a trust in Congress kind of situation, this just adds fuel to the fire,” David McLennan said, an expert on state politics at Meredith College. “If the Department of Justice doesn’t treat it, or the Securities Exchange Commission doesn’t treat it as a serious issue worthy of prosecution, then I think we’re in real bad shape.”
The matter has been an issue in this year’s race to replace Burr, who is retiring.
Democratic Senate candidate Cheri Beasley released an ad earlier this summer calling for a ban on members of Congress trading individual stocks. A spokesperson for her opponent, Republican Rep. Ted Budd, did not reply to a request for comment on the issue Tuesday.
“Even though Congress does try to regulate itself somewhat, I don’t think the political will is there,” McLennan said. “It’s like other reforms we’ve tried to make for politicians. They’re very difficult to pass and then even more difficult to enforce.”