When I first heard the news of Republican North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr making a huge stock trade shortly after a closed door briefing on the coronavirus spread, but before it became a worldwide pandemic, I was willing to hear him out. I was wrong. He needs to resign.
My first instinct was to defend a Republican. Due process is important and needs to be defended, especially from Democrats who try to deny it to every Republican. But this isn’t a criminal case, it’s political. And in a time of pandemics, it matters if someone even appears to have abused their position to benefit themselves, financially or otherwise.
Burr should resign.
As Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Burr had access to information the public did not. Whether or not that influenced his stock trades is irrelevant. Elected officials need to avoid the appearance of impropriety, and Burr knows that.
But Burr’s record is not particularly good on the issue of stock trading, or at least forbidding members of Congress from using their position and the information that comes with it to their advantage. In 2012, Burr voted against the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act, which made what he is accused of illegal. In fact, he called the very idea “ludicrous” in an interview.
It’s important to remember members of Congress trading on insider information they obtained through their positions was perfectly legal in 2012. It wasn’t until Peter Schweitzer’s book “Throw Them All Out” exposed this that Congress bothered to act. But Congress acting and members of Congress adhering are two different things.
Burr knew the law because he opposed the law. But people, even Senators, are subject to laws they oppose.
Again, this isn’t to say Burr is guilty — it’s to say that he should know what it looks like (the Department of Justice has launched an investigation into Burr on this). If you’re painting a rosy picture publicly, while acting differently, for your own personal gain, that’s a breach of public trust. In early February, Burr coauthored an op-ed downplaying the threat from coronavirus while he was dumping stocks before the market tanked. Whatever his rationale, the public pronouncement was the opposite and it looks really bad.
In trying to work through my thought process on this issue, I was bouncing back and forth with a few friends with different opinions. The one who believes Burr should go brought something else about him to my attention.
Burr “recently helped get a significant land grab casino project approved to support an Indian tribe from South Carolina, against the wishes of the governor, attorney general and at least 100 of the 120 members of his State House at the time it was proposed,” my friend wrote.
This friend, who works in the opposition research field, added, “Thanks to Burr’s lobbying efforts in Congress, which included co-sponsoring a bill to help grease through the land grab, the Department of the Interior obtained all the arguments it needed to circumvent Burr’s own state government.”
I’m not sure how often a senator actively works against the clear wishes of his or her state, but that’s what Burr appears to have done here.
Turns out, one of the casino’s partners is a big Burr donor. Again, it could all be on the up-and-up, but it sure looks bad, doesn’t it?
And that’s the real problem – it could all be above board, but elected officials need to avoid the appearance that it isn’t. Burr hasn’t.
These aren’t run of the mill problems, these are self-inflicted wounds. If it’s all innocent, Burr should explain himself in more than the limited way he has. We’re in the middle of a pandemic devastating the economy and draining people’s life savings. Richard Burr insulated himself from the same fate. It just looks really, really bad, and there’s no way he can ignore it or “Senate Ethics Committee investigation” it away.
Richard Burr should resign. The country doesn’t need a senator with a major cloud hanging over his head. If he wants to run for the seat he would vacate in the next election, or a special election this fall, that’s fine. The voters of North Carolina can pass judgement on him, if he wants to face that jury. But the country needs better, especially right now.
Derek Hunter is the host of the Daily Daily Caller Podcast.