From The Editor: North Carolina Might Need A New Senator Soon

Richard Burr

AP Photo/Steve Helber

By Billy Ball

May 14, 2020

Why an explosive investigation of Sen. Richard Burr amps up an already wild election year in North Carolina.

Sen. Richard Burr’s cell phone was confiscated by the FBI yesterday and, today, he stepped down from his prominent post as the head of the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee.

It says something about the times we live in that the story — just the latest Burr news bomb in the last three months — isn’t even the biggest story of the day. It might rank somewhere in the top five stories.

Religious leaders are gathering in Raleigh to protest social distancing orders, Gov. Roy Cooper is considering ways to restart the state’s languishing economy amid a pandemic, and the man who’s represented North Carolina in Washington, D.C. for 15 years now is taking house calls from federal agents for all the wrong reasons.

We are entitled to answers. Entitled to the truth from our senator. And, eventually, if the facts justify it, we are entitled to a new senator. 

Between James Comey and the Trump wiretaps and General Michael Flynn and James Comey again and General Flynn again, FBI agents are often in the news these days. They can hardly qualify as “spooks” anymore, seeming as ubiquitous as the crossing guard on the corner.

But the import of the Burr raid cannot be overstated, even if Burr had not planned to run for re-election in 2022. Burr, the head of the Senate intelligence committee, a Trump ally, an NRA magnet, is a powerful figure in D.C.

RELATED: Burr Steps Down As Senate Intelligence Chair After FBI Seizes His Cell Phone

If he leaves office now, Burr’s departure would leave both of North Carolina’s US Senate seats up for grabs in an already high-stakes election.

Amid these allegations that Burr used classified intelligence on the coronavirus to move up to $1.7 million in stocks before the market began its steep descent, our senator is in trouble

From CNN:

Federal agents seized a cellphone belonging to Sen. Richard Burr on Wednesday night as part of a Justice Department probe into stock transactions he made ahead of the sharp market downturn sparked by concerns over the coronavirus, a law enforcement official told the Los Angeles Times.

The North Carolina Republican turned over his phone after agents served a search warrant at his home in the Washington area, the official told the newspaper.

The warrant and subsequent cell phone seizure mark a notable step in the probe into whether Burr sought to profit from information he obtained in nonpublic briefings about the virus’s spread. CNN has reached out to Burr, his attorney, the Justice Department and the FBI for comment.

Burr, who leads the Senate Intelligence Committee, has been scrutinized for selling up to $1.7 million in stocks in February after he received closed-door briefings about the virus before the market began trending downward.

These allegations are serious, potentially constituting a violation of the 2012 Stock Act, which forbids lawmakers from using inside info to benefit their own finances.

Burr was one of just three senators who opposed the act then. It’s not hard to imagine the Winston-Salem Republican is even more averse today.

For his part, the senator has asked the Senate Ethics Committee to review the sales, but that’s a modest gesture from Burr. And on Thursday, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell reportedly said Burr agreed to step down as intelligence committee chair during the investigation.

But, appropriately, it is law enforcement, not Burr’s GOP colleagues in the Senate, who will take their own look.

Whatever they find, Burr’s image has changed in D.C. and in North Carolina forever. And the scandal is an embarrassment for North Carolinians of all political stripes. 

Burr must cooperate with the probe. He must answer questions about his stock sales fully and faithfully. And after the Justice Department, an organization with its own credibility issues these days, makes its assessment, the people of North Carolina will make their own. 

We are entitled to answers. Entitled to the truth from our senator. And, eventually, if the facts justify it, we are entitled to a new senator. 


  • Billy Ball

    Billy Ball is Cardinal & Pine's senior community editor. He’s covered local, state and national politics, government, education, criminal justice, the environment and immigration in North Carolina for almost two decades, winning state, regional and national awards for his reporting and commentary.

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