(WBTV) - North Carolina Senator Richard Burr has issued a statement after stepping down as the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee amid an investigation into stock trading linked to the coronavirus.
“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,” Sen. Burr said in his statement.
The Los Angeles Times reported federal agents served a search warrant on Sen. Burr and seized his cell phone during an investigation into stock trading linked to the coronavirus Wednesday night.
The LA Times cited a law enforcement official, who they say was speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss a law enforcement action.
This report signaled a major action in the Justice Department’s investigation into stock trades Sen. Burr made as the coronavirus first hit the United States, according to the LA Times.
Burr turned over his phone to federal agents at his Washington, D.C. home.
North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein previously called for a “thorough and complete investigation” of Sen. Burr after reports that he sold off as much as $1.7 million in stocks just before the markets dropped due to coronavirus concerns.
Senate records showed 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 issued warnings about the effects of the coronavirus.
Several of the stocks were in companies that own hotels.
Burr’s selloff came right as the committee was receiving daily briefings on the coronavirus health threat, according to ProRepublica.
An NPR recording captured Burr speaking at a Feb. 27 North Carolina State Society event. In the recording, Burr warned about the impact COVID-19 could have on the America.
Burr has denied wrongdoing and requested an ethics review of the stock sales.
According to WNCN in Raleigh, Alice Fisher, an attorney for Burr, issued a statement saying, “The law is clear that any American -– including a Senator -– may participate in the stock market based on public information, as Senator Burr did."
Burr has acknowledged selling the stocks because of the coronavirus but said he relied “solely on public news reports,” specifically CNBC’s daily health and science reporting out of Asia, to make the financial decisions.
North Carolina Senator Thom Tilllis issued a statement in response to the investigation and Sen. Burr’s decision to step down Thursday afternoon.
“Senator Tillis has said from the beginning that Senator Burr owes North Carolinians a full explanation, and the DOJ is currently investigating the matter to get to the facts. Senator Tillis believes Senator Burr made the right decision to step down as Intelligence Committee chairman to remove distractions from the very important work of the committee.”