US Senate intel chair steps down amid stock sales probe

US Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr

Washington, (Samajweekly) Republican Senator Richard Burr, who is under probes for stock salees he made ahead of a market downturn triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic, was stepping down as chairman of the US Senate Intelligence Committee, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced on Thursday.

“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 on Thursday.

“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 reportedly served Burr with a search warrant and seized his cell phone on Wednesday, as part of the Justice Department’s investigation into his stock trades, reports Xinhua news agency.

Burr was reported to have dumped stocks worth up to $1.72 million in 33 different transactions on February 13, a week before the stock market declined sharply.

He and other Senators had received closed-door briefings from US public health officials on the risk posed by the coronavirus, before most Americans were warned about the potential economic fallout of the pandemic.

In a statement on Thursday, Burr said he was stepping aside until the investigation was 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,” the North Carolina Senator said.

Speaking to reporters, Burr added that he has been cooperating with investigators.

Asked about Burr’s decision on Thursday, President Donald Trump told reporters at the White House, “that’s too bad”, adding that “I knew nothing about it, nothing about it. No, I never discussed it with anybody”.

Senator Kelly Loeffler, a Georgia Republican who was appointed to her seat late last year, also faced public scrutiny for trades she and her husband, New York Stock Exchange chairman Jeffrey Sprecher, made this year.

Senator Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, was als contacted by the FBI about sales her husband made early this year, her spokesman said on Thursday.

The US passed a law in 2012 that has explicitly made it illegal for members of Congress to trade stocks with inside information.