Burr steps aside as Senate intelligence chair amid FBI stock-trade probe

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Republican Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina is stepping aside as chairman of the influential Senate Intelligence Committee while he’s under investigation for stock trades he made ahead of the market downturn sparked by the coronavirus pandemic.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement Thursday that Burr “contacted me this morning to inform me of his decision to step aside as Chairman of the Intelligence Committee during the pendency of 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."

The FBI served a search warrant Wednesday on U.S. Sen. Richard Burr, who serves North Carolina, according to the L.A. Times.

Federal agents took Burr’s cellphone as part of the Justice Department’s investigation into his stock trades before the market tanked.

Financial documents show Burr, a Republican, sold 33 stocks in February, which were valued near $1 million. Some people claimed he had inside information about the coronavirus because he’s on the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Channel 9 spoke with retired FBI Assistant Director Chris Swecker, who said getting the senator’s cell phone is crucial to their investigation.

He said agents are looking for emails, text messages or phone calls that could tie the senator to insider trading.

“They are looking for evidence of intent or knowledge that this information was inside information, and that it was not some regularly scheduled or prescheduled sell,” Swecker said.

Burr said his decision to sell those stocks was based on public news reports.

The organization Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington said they filed a complaint with the Senate Ethics Committee and are looking for answers.

“I want to know why he sold the stocks when he did,” said Donald Sherman, who is with the organization.

Senate records show that Burr and his wife sold between roughly $600,000 and $1.7 million in more than 30 separate transactions in late January and mid-February, just before the market began to fall and as government health officials began to issue stark warnings about the effects of the virus. Several of the stocks were in companies that own hotels.

Most of those stock sales came on Feb. 13, just before Burr made a speech in North Carolina in which he predicted severe consequences from the virus, including closed schools and cutbacks in company travel, according to audio obtained by National Public Radio and released Thursday.

Burr told the small North Carolina audience that the virus was “much more aggressive in its transmission than anything that we have seen in recent history” and “probably more akin to the 1918 pandemic.”

Burr’s remarks were much more dire than remarks he had made publicly, and came as President Donald Trump was still downplaying the severity of the virus.

Statement from Burr:

“This morning, I informed Majority Leader McConnell that I have made the decision to step aside as Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee until this investigation is resolved.

"The work the Intelligence Committee and its members do is too important to risk hindering in any way. I believe this step is necessary to allow the Committee to continue its essential work free of external distractions.”

CNN contributed to this article.