Richard Burr, appears to have pulled off a political Houdini trick. North Carolina’s senior U.S. Senator didn’t grab one of the scores of presidential pardons that Donald Trump was dispensing like candy yesterday in what appeared to be a kind of “going out of business/two-for-one” sale, but he did hear from federal prosecutors that they’re going to let last year’s troubling stock sales (which took place in and around the onset of the pandemic and a special briefing he received on the matter in his role as a senator) slide.
As the New York Times reported last night:
The Justice Department informed Senator Richard M. Burr, Republican of North Carolina, on Tuesday that it would not pursue insider trading charges against him, quietly ending a monthslong investigation into his dumping of hundreds of thousands of dollars in stock in the turbulent early days of the coronavirus pandemic.
The decision by the department effectively cleared a cloud of legal jeopardy that has loomed over Mr. Burr since the sales were first disclosed in March.
The news has to be a tremendous relief to Burr, who must now feel like he’s received a second lease on life. He’s gone from looking at the ignominy of removal from the Senate, losing his sweet pension and even serving time in prison, to returning to his normal position — that of a relatively inconsequential senator who’s spent more than a quarter-century in Washington to little effect, but who will retire from office when his term ends next year to a comfortable, country club life and, if he still wants it at age 67, a few lucrative years on the corporate lobbying circuit.
Of course, one also hopes it’s possible that Burr’s close call could inspire some more noble emotions and desires. Perhaps, after staring into the abyss for several grim months, Burr will have a Scrooge-like epiphany and realize that there can be more to life in Washington than padding one’s retirement accounts and doing the biding of the one percent.
Maybe, just maybe, Burr’s harrowing brush with the law will inspire him to devote the last two years of his his term to — dare we say it? — doing what’s right.
Could it be that, having gotten a second chance (and, by virtue of his announced retirement, no longer facing the pressure to placate the far right Trumpists in the GOP base), Burr might just align himself with other relative “moderates” in the GOP — Romney, Murkowski, Sasse, Collins — and help President Biden rescue the country?
Admittedly, it’s a long shot. The easiest thing for Burr at this point would be to fade back into comfortable, come-to-work-late-and-leave-early, backbench obscurity.
But it’s also clear to anyone paying attention that, while he is certainly no progressive, deep down, Burr is also not a fire-breathing Trumpist. Richard Burr has to know that Donald Trump’s presidency has been disaster for the country in innumerable ways and that it’s essential for the nation’s well-being that the new administration succeed in pursuit of its top four agenda items: overcoming the pandemic, rebuilding the economy, healing our nation’s racial divides and attacking the climate emergency.
After all, Burr has children and grandchildren. He has to want to leave them a nation and planet that are healthier than they are right now. And you’d also think he’d want them to remember him as someone who capped a lengthy career in Congress by, when the chips were down, putting true public service ahead of shallow personal and political expediency.
C’mon, Senator: How ’bout it — what have you got to lose?