On Thursday night, Fox News host Tucker Carlson called for Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) to resign after it was reported Burr sold more than $1 million in stock due to his insider knowledge of the upcoming Chinese coronavirus threat. According to a secret recording obtained by NPR, Burr privately warned that the coronavirus poses a serious threat to America while selling his stocks and refusing to speak about the threat publicly.
“There is no greater moral time than betraying your country in a time of crisis, and that appears to be what happened,” Carlson said of Burr’s actions.
On Thursday, ProPublica reported that Burr, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, had “sold off a significant percentage of his stocks, unloading between $628,000 and $1.72 million of his holdings on Feb. 13 in 33 separate transactions.” This dumping of stock saved Burr from serious losses. Roll Call estimated his net worth at $1.7 million in 2018, so this action significantly shaped his financial fortunes, sparing him some of the pain other Americans are facing.
“Senator Burr filed a financial disclosure form for personal transactions made several weeks before the U.S. and financial markets showed signs of volatility due to the growing coronavirus outbreak,” a Burr spokesperson told Fox News. “As the situation continues to evolve daily, he has been deeply concerned by the steep and sudden toll this pandemic is taking on our economy. He supported Congress’ immediate efforts to provide $7.8 billion for response efforts and this week’s bipartisan bill to provide relief for American business and small families.”
Yet later on Thursday, NPR published a secret recording from a Feb. 27 luncheon at the Capitol Hill Club. “There’s one thing that I can tell you about this: It is much more aggressive in its transmission than anything that we have seen in recent history,” he said. “It is probably more akin to the 1918 pandemic.”
These remarks came after Burr wrote a February 7 op-ed laying out the tools the U.S. government had to fight the coronavirus, and a few days before a March 5 statement saying, “we have a framework in place that has put us in a better position than any other country to respond to a public health threat, like the coronavirus.”
Tucker tore into the senator for his alleged insider trading.
“The chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee sold more than a million dollars in stock in mid-February after learning how devastating the Chinese coronavirus could be. He had inside information about what could happen to our country, which is now happening, but he didn’t warn the public,” the Fox News host said. “He didn’t give a primetime address. He didn’t go on television to send the alarm. He didn’t even disavow an op-ed he’d written just ten days before, claiming America was ‘better prepared than ever for coronavirus.’ He didn’t do any of those things.”
“Instead, what did he do? He dumped his shares in hotel stocks, so he wouldn’t lose money. And then he stayed silent,” Tucker added, bitterly. “Now, maybe there’s an honest explanation for what he did. If there is, he should share it with the rest of us immediately. Otherwise, he must resign from the Senate and face prosecution for insider trading.”
Then came the powerful conclusion: “There is no greater moral crime than betraying your country in a time of crisis, and that appears to be what happened.”
As Carlson spoke, news broke that Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.) had also dumped stock following a coronavirus briefing. She also publicly assured Americans after the briefing, even as she was reportedly selling her stock.
If Burr and Loeffler engaged in insider trading while anticipating a stock market downturn amidst the coronavirus crisis, this is a horrendous abuse of the public trust. Tucker is right to ask for an honest explanation, but his condemnation is also appropriate.
Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.