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Stock sales suspicious

Things do not look good for Sen. Richard Burr.

Last week, the FBI seized Burr’s cellphone as part of the Justice Department’s investigation into whether he and his wife, Brooke, sold stocks worth about $1 million using insider information he gained during congressional briefings about coronavirus in January.

Burr says his stock sales were solely guided by public media reports about the deadly virus. He requested a Senate Ethics Committee review of his conduct.

But critics have noted that his stock strategy changed for the sales in question.

Burr’s brother-in-law also sold stocks valued at between $97,006 and $280,000 on the same day Burr sold his stocks. None of the stocks overlapped; just the timing, which seems suspicious.

The seizing of his cellphone is significant. “This is not something the FBI or DOJ does lightly,” Preet Bharara, a former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, tweeted May 13. “It requires layers of review, the blessing of a judge, and consideration of severe reputational harm to a sitting U.S. Senator.”

On May 14, Burr resigned his chairmanship of the high-profile Intelligence Committee. Considering that the committee has oversight responsibilities for the organization investigating him, it was the right move. We’re glad that he recognizes this.

On top of the criminal allegations, Burr has been criticized for giving a speech to a private group on Feb. 27 in which he warned that the coronavirus would have a “dire effect” on the economy and population — even though he’d been giving a rosier assessment to the general public, including in an op-ed for Fox News. Downplaying the deadly pandemic when he knew better was dishonest — and dangerous.

“I don’t believe he did anything criminally wrong, maybe used poor judgment, I guess,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, (R-S.C.) said following the initial allegations. “The bottom line is, let’s just see how this turns out. I’ve got nothing but good things to say about Richard Burr.”

But other Republicans feel differently, including Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz, who slammed Burr for “screwing all Americans by falsely reassuring us — while he dumped his stock portfolio early.”

Even if the investigation produces no criminal charges, Burr’s reputation is likely damaged beyond repair. To see his career ending this way is just sad.

* Guest editorial from The Winston-Salem Journal in North Carolina.

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