The FBI just seized a GOP senator's cell phone to investigate his shady stock moves
This week, North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr's sketchy-seeming stock dealings seem even sketchier, after the FBI reportedly served the Republican lawmaker a warrant to seize his cell phone as part of a larger investigation into his potentially illegal transactions.
According to the Los Angeles Times, Burr turned over his phone to federal agents on Wednesday evening, days after the Justice Department had served a warrant to Apple for access to Burr's iCloud information — which they then used as evidence to obtain the authority to seize Burr's device.
Burr is the chairman of the powerful Senate Intelligence Committee. He is currently under investigation for making dozens of lucrative stock trades worth an estimated $600,000 to $1.7 million this past February, shortly after he'd received intelligence briefings about the severity of the then-upcoming coronavirus pandemic's effect on the United States. Shortly after Burr's transactions, America's stock market began its historic nosedive, launching itself into bear territory for the first time in a decade. All the while, Burr had been privately warning rich constituents of the oncoming disruptions the pandemic would bring, without sharing those same concerns with the wider public.
The notable behavior doesn't stop there. Not only did Burr himself dump a fortune of stock options in the early, nebulous days of the pandemic, but so did his brother-in-law.
Yes, Gerald Fauth, who is married to Burr's sister and who, incidentally, was appointed to the three-person National Mediation Board by President Trump in 2017, reportedly unloaded a nice chunk of stocks worth anywhere from $97,000 and $280,000 on the exact same day Burr himself was cashing in on his trades.
In a statement to ProPublica, which first reported Fauth's stock sale, an attorney for Burr denied any wrongdoing. Burr "participated in the stock market based on public information and he did not coordinate his decision to trade on Feb. 13 with Mr. Fauth," the statement read.
Burr had previously asserted that his stock trades were based solely on news reports and other publicly available information, and subsequently called on the Senate Ethics Committee to investigate his transactions. But an ethics committee investigation and a full-blown FBI action are two wildly different animals, prompting some legal scholars to question why Burr suddenly finds himself in the DOJ's crosshairs while fellow Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler of Georgia — who herself engaged in a series of similarly sketchy stock trades — is not currently under similar scrutiny, at least as far as is publicly known.
Loeffler has similarly denied wrongdoing, saying her investment decisions are made by a third-party adviser. But some political watchers theorized that by targeting Burr but not Loeffler in an FBI probe that was almost certainly at least cleared by the White House, it's possible the investigation has a whiff of political vengeance.
Burr is not planning on running for re-election in 2022, but even before news of the FBI warrant, his stock-selling scandal was significant enough to prompt fellow North Carolina Republican Sen. Thom Tillis — who is up for reelection this year — to publicly demand Burr offer "everybody in North Carolina and the United States an explanation" for the transactions.
After news of Wednesday's warrant, Tillis reiterated those demands to former North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory on the latter's radio program, saying that Burr "does owe all of us an explanation and this is clear evidence that an investigation is underway. We need to see where the investigation leads."
Burr may not have re-election on his mind these days, but Tillis seems keenly aware that his colleague's legal troubles could splash back on his own efforts to return to the Senate this coming year. To date, neither Burr nor the FBI have publicly commented on the LA Times's report.
Update 12:15 p.m. ET: On Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell released a statement confirming that Burr had tendered his resignation as chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, adding that “we agreed that this decision would be in the best interests of the committee.” According to McConnell, Burr’s tenure as committee chair will end Friday afternoon.