In case you missed it, Politico reported last night that North Carolina’s senior U.S. senator, Richard Burr, has dodged yet another potential bullet with respect the controversial stock sales that he and his wife (and his brother-in-law) pursued at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. What’s more, a judge’s ruling that denies media access to any search warrants executed by law enforcement officials against Burr related to the matter could set a problematic precedent. This is from reporter Josh Gerstein’s story:
A federal judge’s decision to refuse access to records of a search warrant issued in connection with an investigation into Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) could limit public access to information about public corruption and other criminal probes in which the Justice Department scrutinizes lawmakers’ actions but ultimately decides not to bring charges, legal experts said.
In a ruling Wednesday, Chief Judge Beryl Howell of the U.S. District Court in Washington turned down a request from the Los Angeles Times to see what information prosecutors presented to a federal magistrate to get a search warrant last May for Burr’s phone. The warrant was reportedly issued as part of an investigation into whether Burr used information from official briefings on the perils of the coronavirus to make stock trades that earned money or saved him from the major market downturn early last year.
The sweeping language in Howell’s ruling suggests that when no charges are filed, search warrant applications and related records should remain secret forever.
A year ago around this time, the news for Burr was decidedly less rosy. In mid-May of 2020, news outlets reported that his phone had been seized by federal agents. This is from a CNN report at that time:
“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….
Several other senators from both parties also sold and bought stock ahead of the market downturn that resulted from the pandemic, although it’s not clear who else the Justice Department may be looking at.
Congress passed the Stock Act in 2012, which made it illegal for lawmakers to use inside information for financial benefit. Under insider trading laws, prosecutors would need to prove the lawmakers had traded based on material nonpublic information they had received in violation of a duty to keep it confidential.”
Burr was chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee at the time the stock sales controversy broke — a position he quickly surrendered to his Republican colleague, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, in response to the investigation. Interestingly, while he is, by all indications, now in the clear with respect to his controversial stock sales, Burr has never reclaimed the top GOP slot on the committee — which is now chaired by Democrat Mark Warner of Virginia, and for which Rubio serves vice-chair.
One supposes, however, that if this is the only loss Burr suffers as he looks forward to a comfortable retirement in January of 2023, the one-time law equipment company salesman-turned millionaire pol will be able to look back on a profitable 28 years in Washington. In 2018, the Center for Responsive Politics estimated Burr’s net worth at between $6.4 million and $8 million, though other websites have estimated it at a lower levels. A U.S. Senator’s pension can also be as high as $139,200 per year.
Burr has not commented publicly on the judge’s ruling.