North Carolina Republican Sen. Richard Burr has stepped down as chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee while the FBI investigates allegations that he sold stocks using inside information about the coronavirus update.
“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,” Burr said in a brief statement.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he agreed with Burr that stepping down is in the committee’s best interest.
President Donald Trump told reporters he knows nothing about the case against Burr and said it is “too bad” the senator is stepping aside.
Burr’s resignation from the committee takes effect on Friday.
He decided to give up his important chairmanship after FBI agents seized his cellphone Wednesday from his Washington home.
Burr is suspected of using inside information that the coronavirus pandemic was about to send stock prices plummeting.
The day after the Dow Jones Industrial Average hit a record high of 29,551 on Feb. 13, Burr sold off several of his holdings worth as much as $1.7 million.
The Washington Post reported Burr had access to classified intelligence reports that warned of calamitous consequences from the pandemic.
The investigative journalism website ProPublica reported last week that Burr’s brother-in-law Gerald Fauth — a member of the National Mediation Board — also sold his shares valued between $97,000 and $280,000.
Burr denies using information he received as a senator to sell his stocks. His attorney, Alice Fisher, says her client “participated in the stock market based on public information, and he did not coordinate his decision to trade on Feb. 13 with Mr. Fauth."
Federal law prohibits anyone using inside information unavailable to the public and ordinary stockholders to profit in the stock market.
A separate act signed by former President Barack Obama in 2012 specifically applies the ban on insider trading to politicians and public officials.
Burr was one of three senators to vote against the act.