Washington — Republican Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina is stepping down as chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee amid a federal investigation into allegations of insider trading, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced in a statement Thursday. The move comes after FBI agentsas a part of the probe.
"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. We agreed that this decision would be in the best interests of the committee and will be effective at the end of the day tomorrow," McConnell said in the statement.
Burr and his wife sold between $600,000 and $1.7 million in stocks in 30 transactions from late January through mid-February, ahead of the stock market plunge and as warnings of the coronavirus pandemic grew. Burr, like other senators, took part in closed-door hearings about the virus.
The Los Angeles Times first reported the seizure of his cellphone Wednesday evening. A spokesman for Burr declined to comment late Wednesday.
The bulk of Burr's stock sales took place on February 13, just before he made a speech predicting extreme measures would have to be taken to check the spread of the virus, including closing schools and cutting company travel, according to audio obtained by National Public Radio. A week earlier, he had co-authored an op-ed expressing optimism about the country's ability to respond to the virus, writing that "the United States today is better prepared than ever before to face emerging public health threats, like the coronavirus."
Burr's role in the Senate is a prominent one, and he led the committee'salongside Democratic vice chairman Mark Warner. It is unclear who will take Burr's place for now.
The North Carolina senator has been in the Senate since 2005.