Trump Passes Up Chance to Even Score With Burr
As calls grew louder Friday for Sen. Richard Burr to resign over his fortuitously timed stock sale, the North Carolina Republican had at least one thing going for him: he escaped the president’s legendary wrath.
President Trump had the perfect opportunity to blast Burr -- who has been on the president's blacklist for months -- at Friday morning's national coronavirus briefing.
Trump punted instead.
“I’m not aware of it,” Trump said when a reporter asked him about the news that four members of Congress had gotten rid of stock just before the pandemic hit U.S. shores. “I saw some names. I know all of them. I know everyone mentioned -- Dianne Feinstein, I guess, and a couple of others,” the president concluded. “I don’t know too much of what it’s about, but I find them to all be very honorable people.”
That the president didn’t unload on Burr surprised many. Last May, Burr, who is the Senate Intelligence chairman, signed off on a subpoena of Donald Trump Jr. in an effort to learn more about why the president’s elder son tried getting dirt on Hillary Clinton ahead of the last general election. And Burr, in the process, forever tarnished his reputation in Trump World. The rules are clear, though unspoken: No one goes after Trump family members.
Angering the commander in chief can have longtime repercussions. Just ask former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who got crossways with Trump and still suffers the consequences.
Besides Feinstein and Burr, Sens. Kelly Loeffler of Georgia and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin also sold stock ahead of the outbreak, public disclosures show. While Loeffler and Johnson insist their trading was carried out by third parties without their knowledge, Burr said he made his trades off of publicly available information, not intelligence briefings.
Burr sold between $628,000 and $1.72 million in stock, ProPublica first reported, and he made those transactions around the same time he was receiving daily briefings about the threat the coronavirus posed to medical and economic health of the country.
Two weeks after selling off his stock and before the market started its nosedive, Burr told VIPs at a fundraiser that it was time to worry. “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,” he said, according to audio first obtained by NPR. “It is probably more akin to the 1918 pandemic.”
The fact that Burr's stock portfolio won’t take a hit has plenty of people angry, including Fox News host and Trump confident, Tucker Carlson, who called on the senator to resign. “There is no greater moral crime than betraying your country in a time of crisis,” he said, “and that appears to be what happened.” He also demanded an explanation, one that came almost 24 hours later.
"I relied solely on public news reports to guide my decision regarding the sale of stocks on Feb. 13," Burr wrote in a statement."Understanding the assumption many could make in hindsight, however, I spoke this morning with the chairman of the Senate Ethics Committee, and asked him to open a complete review of the matter with full transparency."
A slow-moving ethics review would be the best-case scenario for the senator, who some Trump supporters note didn’t have many friends in the White House to begin with, and even fewer after he went after Trump Jr.
“Recall as Intel chair, he barely did anything to fight against the fake Russia narrative or the phony impeachment trial, and he was the deciding vote against a historic rescissions package that would have saved taxpayers billions,” one former senior administration official told RealClearPolitics.
Should he resign? “The swamp may love him,” the official said, “but he wouldn’t be missed by most.”
This isn’t the first time that Burr has made savvy financial decisions in the nick of time. During the financial crisis, he called his family with specific instructions. “I called my wife and I said, 'Brooke, I am not coming home this weekend. I will call you on Monday. Tonight, I want you to go to the ATM machine, and I want you to draw out everything it will let you take," he said in 2009 during the Great Recession during an interview with the Hendersonville Times-News.
Burr weathered that comment. He may not weather the current controversy as both the left and the right call for his head.
“This is outrageous, and it’s a violation of the public’s trust,” said Meredith McGehee, executive director of the liberal group Issue One. “The reason elected officials get classified information is to make better decisions for the health and welfare of the public, not make more money for themselves and their donors.”
At a moment when sporting events, church meetings and concerts are being cancelled, some are calling for Burr to step down and for a special election to be held for his seat. Republican contenders are already whispering about the possibility and putting together blueprints for a primary fight. For now, though, Trump has not signaled his support.
It could be because he has a global pandemic to fight. “He is seeing the death rate and infection rate go up,” a source close to the president told RCP. “He has much bigger concerns.”
That much is true, and it is rare good news for Burr who finds himself ensnared in an ugly scandal. For now, Trump has broken one of his unspoken rules by showing mercy to a senator who publicly crossed him.