Federal investigators seized a cellphone belonging to Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) in connection with their probe into a series of stock trades he made as the coronavirus pandemic began to spread around the country, according to the Los Angeles Times and CBS News.
Agents served a search warrant at Burr’s home in the Washington, D.C., area on Wednesday night, and he turned over the device, according to the Los Angeles Times, which first reported the news.
Burr, the powerful Republican chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, is under scrutiny after ProPublica reported in March that he dumped between $628,000 and $1.72 million worth of holdings in 33 transactions on Feb. 13. The stock trades came shortly after Congress began receiving regular intelligence briefings about the threat of the coronavirus, which has since infected more than 1.3 million people in the U.S. and caused economic havoc.
The lawmaker’s office denied any impropriety, and Burr called on the Senate Ethics Committee to investigate the reports in late March. Reports emerged days later that the Justice Department was investigating the trades.
Burr’s office declined to comment on the report. The Department of Justice did not immediately reply to HuffPost’s request for comment.
The Los Angeles Times noted that the search warrant reflected a dramatic escalation in the investigation and would require agents to present top Justice Department officials and a judge with probable cause of wrongdoing.
“This is a very, very big deal,” former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara wrote on Twitter. “This is not something the FBI or DOJ does lightly. It requires layers of review, the blessing of a judge, and consideration of severe reputational harm” to a senator.
Several other lawmakers have come under scrutiny over the timing of their financial transactions. Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.), whose husband is the chairman of the New York Stock Exchange, also sold between $1,275,000 and $3,100,000 in stock in a series of transactions in mid-February.
She had denied any wrongdoing and said after the trades that she and her husband would divest from all individual holdings.
CORRECTION: This article previously misidentified the state represented by Loeffler as South Carolina; she is the senator from Georgia.
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