- The FBI seized a cell phone belonging to North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr, The Los Angeles Times reported.
- The move came as part of the bureau’s investigation into whether members of Congress engaged in insider trading related to the coronavirus outbreak.
- Burr drew scrutiny after ProPublica reported that he and one of his family members dumped stocks around the same time that he, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, was receiving classified briefings on the spread of the virus.
- “We’ll decline to comment,” Caitlin Carroll, Burr’s communications director, told Business Insider.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
The FBI has seized a cell phone belonging to North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Burr was served with a search warrant at his home near Washington, DC, the LA Times reported, citing an anonymous law enforcement official.
A spokesperson for Burr’s office declined to respond to a request for comment, and the Justice Department did not immediately respond to inquiries.
Citining another unnamed law enforcement official, the Times reported that federal agents obtained access to Burr’s Apple iCloud account, using information they disocvered there to obtain the warrant for the senator’s phone.
Burr is the chairman of the powerful Senate Intelligence Committee, which has access to the federal government’s most classified and sensitive information.
According to Reuters, Burr’s committee was getting daily briefings on the threat of the coronavirus around the time he dumped his stock.
The Senator unloaded up to $1.72 million in stocks on February 13, days after reassuring the public that the Trump administration was well prepared to handle the outbreak of the novel coronavirus.
A source familiar with the matter told CNN his committee did not get a briefing the week he sold his stocks.
In a February 7, op-ed for Fox News, Burr — along with Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee — acknowledged that “Americans are rightfully concerned about the coronavirus” at a time when the number of cases in China was still skyrocketing.
The senators added, however, that “Thankfully, the United States today is better prepared than ever before to face emerging public health threats, like the coronavirus, in large part due to the work of the Senate Health Committee, Congress, and the Trump Administration.”
According to Burr’s financial disclosure form, he started dumping stock on February 13, six days after writing that op-ed.
He made a total of 33 separate transactions, unloading anywhere from $1,001 to $100,000 worth of stocks in different companies.
Burr defended his actions the day after ProPublica first reported on the stock sales, saying in a statement, “I relied solely on public news reports to guide my decision regarding the sale of stocks on February 13. Specifically, I closely followed CNBC’s daily health and science reporting out of its Asia bureaus at the time.”
He added: “Understanding the assumption many could make in hindsight, however, I spoke this morning with the chairman of the Senate Ethics Committee and asked him to open a complete review of the matter with full transparency.”
ProPublica’s report came hours after NPR reported it had obtained a recording that features Burr raising dire concerns about the coronavirus to members of a private Washington club.
“There’s one thing I can tell you about this: It is much more aggressive in its transmission than anything we have seen in recent history. It’s probably more akin to the 1918 pandemic,” Burr said in the recording, according to NPR.
“Every company should be cognizant of the fact that you may have to alter your travel,” Burr added. “You may have to look at your employees and judge whether the trip they’re making to Europe is essential or whether it could be done on video conference. Why risk it?”
After ProPublica published its report, it surfaced that several other US senators had also dumped millions in stocks right before the markets plummeted amid fears of the coronavirus.
Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler of Georgia sold off shares after a closed-door briefing on the outbreak on January 24. Sen. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma and Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California also unloaded stocks in the weeks after the briefing. All of the senators have denied any wrongdoing.
CNN reported in March that the Justice Department was investigating the actions of US lawmakers who sold stocks before the market plunged amid coronavirus fears. The FBI has reportedly reached out to Burr as part of the probe.
In a statement to CNN, Alice Fisher, a lawyer for Burr, said he “welcomes a thorough review of the facts in this matter, which will establish that his actions were appropriate.”
Loeffler, Inhofe, and Feinstein’s offices said the lawmakers have not been contacted by the FBI. Inhofe and Loeffler said their stock transactions are held by third parties, while Feinstein said that her husband had sold the stocks and that she holds “all assets in a blind trust of which I have no control.”
In 2012, a Republican-led House of Representatives passed a measure, signed into law by former President Barack Obama, clarifying that members of Congress can be prosecuted for insider trading.
Burr has denied wrongdoing, saying he based the sale of stocks on news reports.