Republican Sen. Richard Burr is stepping down as chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee after the FBI launched an investigation into a series of stock trades he made earlier this year as the coronavirus pandemic began to spread in the U.S.
“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,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement to reporters on Thursday. “We agreed that this decision would be in the best interests of the committee.”
Burr, the senior senator from North Carolina, is under investigation for selling stocks after attending a briefing on the potential impact of the coronavirus pandemic. On Wednesday night, FBI investigators reportedly seized Burr’s cellphone in connection with the probe, after agents served a search warrant at the senator’s home in the Washington, D.C., area and he turned over the device.
In March, ProPublica reported that Burr dumped between $628,000 and $1.72 million’s worth of holdings on Feb. 13, shortly after Congress began receiving intelligence briefings about the threat of the coronavirus. At the time, Burr had been assuring the public that the government was prepared to respond to the threat. Since then, the pandemic has infected more than 1.3 million people in the country and prompted a severe economic crisis.
Sen. Jim Risch is next in line to be chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. The Idaho Republican, however, already chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and is expected to remain at that post. The opportunity to lead congressional oversight over the nation’s intelligence community would then fall on Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).
Igor Bobic contributed reporting.