FBI agents seized a cell phone belonging to North Carolina Republican Sen. Richard Burr on Wednesday night, as part of an investigation into alleged insider trading, after he dumped up to $1.7 million in stock in February following private committee briefings on the impending COVID-19 crisis.
Burr turned over the phone after agents served a search warrant at his Washington-area home, according to a report in the Los Angeles Times. Authorities reportedly seized the phone after a separate search warrant was used to obtain information from Burr’s Apple iCloud account.
News of the seizure prompted immediate questions about why the FBI isn’t similarly investigating Georgia Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler, who also sold hundreds of thousands worth of stock after receiving COVID-19 briefings. Some experts suggested the DOJ’s decision to go after Burr, but not Loeffler, could be politically motivated. Burr has been a thorn in the side of Donald Trump, while Loeffler has been fiercely loyal to the president.
CBS News reports: “We’ll decline to comment,” Burr communications director Caitlin Carroll said late Wednesday. … Several of the stocks sold were in companies that own hotels, an industry that has been decimated by the coronavirus. 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, on February 7, Burr coauthored an opinion piece with Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander that offered reassuring words for Americans concerned about the coronavirus. … It’s illegal for members of Congress to trade stocks based on information the public doesn’t have that they receive through their positions as lawmakers. Burr was among only three senators who voted against the legislation banning such trading in 2012.
More from the Washington Post: Burr was not the only senator accused of abusing coronavirus-related information that was not available to the general public to make personal financial decisions. Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.) also came under fire after the Daily Beast reported that she had sold a significant share of stocks in January after attending the same briefings as Burr. … Some legal observers noted there would be a potential disparity if Burr was being investigated but not other members of Congress who engaged in similar trades, particularly Loffler. After the Justice Department’s investigation into Burr became public, a Loeffler spokesman said she had not been contacted by federal law enforcement officials. Burr and President Trump have had a tense relationship at times.