Senator Richard Burr (RN.C) speaks during a Senate Health, Education, Work, and Pensions Committee hearing examining the federal response to Covid-19 and new emerging variables on January 11, 2022 on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.
Greg Nash | AFP | Getty Images
WASHINGTON – Newly disclosed FBI documents paint a vivid picture of government evidence in a 2020 internal trade investigation into North Carolina’s top senator, Republican Richard Burr.
Burr was ultimately not charged with breaking any laws. But the newly issued sworn affidavit from an FBI special agent shows that the Department of Justice has probable reason to believe that Burr committed insider trading and securities fraud.
As chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Burr in February 2020 liquidated more than half of his and his wife’s equity stake at a time when US markets and most Americans did not yet know the severity of the coronavirus pandemic.
Given his position, Burr had information about the spread of the virus, and about America’s meager preparation for a massive pandemic, that was not publicly available.
The affidavit was submitted in support of a search warrant request for the confiscation and search of Burr’s phone, a phone that the judge in the case later granted.
It lays out an astonishing timeline of calls and texts between Burr and his wife Brooke Burr, her brother Gerald Voth and Voth’s wife that happened on the same days that the Fauths and Burrs sold hundreds of thousands of dollars in stock, right before the market crashed.
A spokesman for the Senate office in Bor did not respond to a request for comment on the newly disclosed documents.
From the start, Burr insisted that the only information he relied on in making the decision to sell his shares was publicly available, including reports from CNBC correspondents in Asia.
However, as Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Burr Grant access to classified intelligence reports in January and early February that included dire warnings of the coronavirus.
On January 31, Burr received non-public information from a source whose name was withheld in FBI documents. On the same day, Burr issued orders to sell approximately $110,000 in shares from his and his wife’s brokerage accounts.
On February 12, Burr ordered the purchase of approximately $1.2 million in Treasuries, using 76% of the total holdings in the joint account of Burr and his wife.
“Investors often buy US Treasury funds to hedge against a potential market downturn,” notes Brandon Merriman, the FBI’s special agent.
He also noted that the Dow Jones Industrial Average closed at a record high of 2,9551.42 on February 12th.
One day after Burr’s big purchase of Treasuries, Burr and his wife offload equity shares worth about $1.1 million.
Burrs’ inventory sold at the time was reported, but the sale value was only reported in a range. Monday’s deposit was the first time the exact amounts were announced.
According to the FBI, “As a result of Senator Burr’s February 13, 2020 sales, his portfolio increased from approximately 83% in equity to approximately 3% in equity.”
A week later, the markets began a sharp slide as investors panicked about the potential economic damage from the coronavirus.
The other person in the Burr family who sold a lot of stock on February 13, 2020 was Burr’s brother-in-law, Gerald Voth.
According to the affidavit, records show that a series of sales orders were placed in an account belonging to Voth’s wife, Mary Voth, shortly before noon on the 13th, valued at approximately $159,100.
Burr’s attorney, Alice Fisher, told ProPublica in May of 2020 that Burr “did not coordinate his decision to trade on February 13 with Mr. Voth.”
But FBI evidence released on Monday shows Burr’s wife called her brother just after 11 a.m. ET on the 13th, and they spoke for two minutes.
Twenty minutes later, Burr also used his cell phone to call Voth, according to records obtained by the Department of Justice.
Just two minutes after Foth’s conversation with his brother ended, Voth called the investment manager and they spoke for only half an hour. In a later interview, the counselor appears to have told the FBI that Fauth appeared to be in a hurry and that he mentioned his acquaintance with a senator in Washington.
According to the FBI, Burrs’ stock sell orders were placed between 11:38 and 11:49 a.m.
Fauth orders were placed between 11:55 AM and 11:58 AM
While the FBI affidavit sheds light on many of the questions surrounding Burr’s stock sales, it closely guards at least one relevant piece of information: what kind of non-public information Burr has about the coronavirus and where he obtained it.
But there may be some clues: Specifically, the Department of Justice lists dozens of text messages Burr exchanged with a person whose name has been omitted, but it appears to be a possible source of non-public information.
According to the FBI, between January 31, 2020 and April 7, 2020, this person and Bohr exchanged approximately 32 text messages, nearly all of them related, in one way or another, to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Almost everything about the text messages was redacted, but later in the affidavit, the government wrote, “Those text messages include those discussed above, and included messages on other issues, such as efforts to provide face masks to the public,” the ‘worldview’ regarding COVID-19, and the proposed ‘national shutdown’. “
If Burr receives this information when it has not been publicly discussed, it may strengthen the government’s case against him.
It remains unclear why the Department of Justice decided not to prosecute Burr or Voth, and the department usually does not explain the reasons for not prosecuting someone.
But on January 19, 2021, after nearly a year of questionable deals, Burr said in a statement: “Tonight, the Department of Justice informed me that it had completed its review of my personal financial transactions that I conducted early last year.
“The case is now closed,” Burr said. “My focus has been and will continue to work for the people of North Carolina during this difficult time for our nation.”