Skip to main content
Access every election story that matters
Enjoy unlimited digital access
$1.99
per week for 24 weeks
Access every election story that matters
Enjoy unlimited digital access
$1.99
per week
for 24 weeks
// //

Sen. Richard Burr listens to testimony on Capitol Hill in Washington on May 12, 2020.

Toni L. Sandys/The Associated Press

U.S. Senator Richard Burr will step aside as chairman of the powerful Senate Intelligence Committee, after the Federal Bureau of Investigation seized his mobile telephone in a major escalation of a probe of his stock trades before the downturn sparked by the coronavirus pandemic.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Mr. Burr contacted him on Thursday morning to inform him of his decision to move aside temporarily during the investigation.

“We agreed that this decision would be in the best interests of the committee and will be effective at the end of the day tomorrow,” Mr. McConnell said in a statement.

Story continues below advertisement

Mr. Burr has denied wrongdoing and said he relied solely on news reports to guide decisions on stock sales, amid reports he and other senators sold shares after private briefings on the risks of the coronavirus crisis.

He told reporters at the U.S. Capitol on Thursday he decided to step aside because he did not want the investigation to distract the intelligence committee from its work.

“I thought this was the best thing to do,” Mr. Burr said.

Mr. Burr’s attorney, Alice Fisher, said in a statement that Mr. Burr was “actively cooperating” with the government inquiry.

Known for bipartisanship, the Senate panel is soon to release an extensive report led by Mr. Burr on Russia’s involvement in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. U.S. intelligence determined that Moscow sought to meddle in the campaign to boost the Trump candidacy.

Moscow denies such actions. President Donald Trump dismisses the allegations as a hoax.

Senator Mark Warner, the Democratic committee vice-chairman who has worked closely with Mr. Burr, told reporters he thought Mr. Burr had made the right choice in temporarily stepping aside, and hoped the matter would be resolved as quickly as possible.

Story continues below advertisement

The Republican senator turned over his phone to FBI agents after they served a search warrant at his Washington home.

The warrant marked a significant step-up in the investigation of Mr. Burr’s stock sales in mid-February, when he and other lawmakers were receiving regular briefings on the coronavirus outbreak and Mr. Trump and some of his political allies were playing down the threat to the public.

Mr. Trump said he did not know anything about Mr. Burr’s decision and had not discussed Mr. Burr’s situation with anyone at the Department of Justice.

“I know nothing about it... That’s too bad,” he told reporters.

’HIGHEST LEVELS’ AT JUSTICE

The Democratic Party in Mr. Burr’s home state of North Carolina said he should resign from the Senate. Mr. Burr, 64, had decided not to run for a fourth six-year Senate term in 2022 well before the reports on his stock sales.

A senior Justice Department official said the FBI did not conduct a raid, but paid a visit to Mr. Burr’s home to collect his cellphone. Approval of the warrant – significant because it was served on a sitting senator – was obtained at the “highest levels” of the Justice Department, the official said.

Story continues below advertisement

Reuters could not immediately learn precisely when the search warrant was executed. The warrant was first reported late on Wednesday by the Los Angeles Times.

The Intelligence Committee chairmanship is one of the most important positions in the Senate. The panel approves the president’s nominees to lead the country’s spy agencies and handles oversight of their operations, conducting most of its business behind closed doors.

It was not immediately clear who would step in as chairman. The three senators next in line for seniority on the Republican-led intelligence committee – Jim Risch, Marco Rubio and Susan Collins – all chair other committees.

The Senate’s Republican leadership will decide who will take the position.

Other senators whose stock trades have been scrutinized have denied trading on coronavirus information. Republican Senator Kelly Loffler has strongly denied wrongdoing in connection with her sales of millions of dollars in shares in the weeks after lawmakers were first briefed on the virus.

Senator Dianne Feinstein, an intelligence committee Democrat, has turned over documents to the FBI about stock trades by her husband that show she was not involved, a spokesman for Feinstein said on Thursday.

Story continues below advertisement

Mr. Burr’s decision called to mind the decision of Democratic Senator Bob Menendez to step aside as ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 2015 as he faced corruption charges. Those charges were eventually dropped.

Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by Globe editors, giving you a concise summary of the day’s most important headlines. Sign up today.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies