Burr steps down as US Senate intel chair after FBI seizes phone

US Senator Richard Burr reportedly sold more than $1m in stocks before the coronavirus rut.

US Senator Richard Burr
United States Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina speaks with reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC [File: Alex Brandon/AP Photo]

United States Senator Richard Burr stepped down as chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee after his mobile phone was seized by federal agents as part of the US Department of Justice’s probe into stock transactions made by the politician before the sharp market downturn triggered by the coronavirus pandemic earlier this year, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Thursday. 

US media said late on Wednesday that the FBI took Burr’s phone as part of a wider investigation. Burr reportedly sold roughly $1.7m in stocks shortly before the economic downturn from the coronavirus pandemic began. 

“Senator 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,” McConnell said in a statement.

“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”

Burr, a Republican, has denied any wrongdoing and said he relied solely on news reports to guide decisions on stock sales amid reports that he and other senators sold shares after being briefed on the risks of the coronavirus crisis.

The Senate Intelligence Committee chairman turned over his phone to agents after they served a search warrant on him at his Washington, DC home, the Los Angeles Times reported, citing an unnamed law enforcement official. 

A separate law enforcement official told the LA Times that the FBI also served a warrant recently to iPhone maker Apple Inc to get information from Burr‘s iCloud account.

Law enforcement agents used data received from the company as part of the evidence used to obtain the warrant for the senator’s phone, the report added.

The Justice Department, which oversees the FBI, declined to comment on the report. Apple did not respond to a request for comment.

CNN reported in March that the Justice Department had started to investigate a series of stock transactions made by Burr before the market downturn triggered by the virus outbreak. The probe was done in coordination with the Securities and Exchange Commission. 

Burr has experience in responding to public health crises and is chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, which receives briefings about threats to the US. 

The senator also came under fire in March after a recording surfaced wherein he stated the danger posed by the coronavirus was akin to the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic. 

“There’s one thing that I can tell you about this: It is much more aggressive in its transmission than anything that we have seen in recent history,” Burr said in the February 27 recording. “It is probably more akin to the 1918 pandemic.”

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies