The U.S. Justice Department has ended its investigation of U.S. Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., apparently declining to bring charges of insider stock trading, according to statements Tuesday from Burr and his attorney.
“Tonight, the Department of Justice informed me that it has concluded its review of my personal financial transactions conducted early last year," said Burr, a Winston-Salem resident. "The case is now closed. I’m glad to hear it.
"My focus has been and will continue to be working for the people of North Carolina during this difficult time for our nation," Burr said.
Burr said during his 2016 campaign he wouldn’t run for reelection to a fourth term in 2022.
Attorney Alice Fisher, who represented Burr, said the senator "is pleased that the Department of Justice has completed a thorough review of this matter and closed it without further action."
Justice officials had not released a statement on the Burr decision as of press time Tuesday. It is not unusual for the political subject of a Justice investigation to be the one announcing a decision.
The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission also has been investigating Burr. There was no update on the status of that investigation Tuesday.
Burr and former Sen. Kelly Loeffler, R-Ga., drew the most attention and scrutiny of several senators for their stock transactions, in part because on Jan. 24, 2020, they attended the Senate Health and Foreign Relations Committee’s closed-door briefing on the novel coronavirus.
The meeting occurred shortly before the general public — and Wall Street — became aware of the seriousness of COVID-19 and the stock market plummeting in March.
The stock-trading controversy surfaced on March 19 after National Public Radio reported on Burr's Feb. 27 comments to the Tar Heel Circle. Burr gave a stark warning about COVID-19 that he had not repeated publicly at that time.
Burr also sold stock shares a week before the stock market began its sharp decline.
Senate financial-disclosure documents show Burr and his wife, Brooke, sold between $628,000 and $1.72 million of their stock holdings in 33 separate transactions just on Feb. 13 alone. The publication Roll Call listed Richard Burr’s net worth at $1.7 million as of 2018.
Burr initially responded to the NPR report with an eight-part Twitter response to denounce as “a tabloid-style hit piece."
However, by March 20, Burr requested the U.S. Senate Ethics committee investigate the couple’s stock transactions.
Burr released a statement at that time saying “I relied solely on public news reports to guide my decision regarding the sale of stocks on Feb. 13. Specifically, I closely followed CNBC’s daily health and science reporting out of its Asia bureaus at the time."
Shortly after the controversy surfaced, a Public Policy Polling poll found that half of North Carolinians wanted Burr to resign as senator. Several political analysts accused Burr of crossing an ethical line with his stock trades.
The controversy surrounding Burr intensified on May 14 when he resigned as chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, a day after FBI agents seized his cellphone from his home.
On May 26, multiple media outlets reported that Justice officials had informed three senators — Democrat Dianne Feinstein of California and Republicans Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma and Loeffler — that investigations into their stock transactions had been closed.
Meanwhile, the Justice investigation into Burr's trading activities went quiet for nearly eight months before Burr's statement Tuesday.
Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, said in May that "from the day this story broke, Burr’s case always seemed the most serious, and it was so treated by the press."
On Tuesday, John Locke Foundation senior analyst Mitch Kokai said that "nothing within the public record should have convinced anyone other than the most partisan observers that Sen. Burr committed a crime."
"Without additional evidence of criminal wrongdoing, it only makes sense for the Justice Department to wrap up its work."
The timing of the disclosure is intriguing given it comes during the last full day of President Donald Trump's term.
Among the most vocal voices calling for Burr to step down was outspoken U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., one of Trump’s fiercest defenders.
Gaetz tweeted in March: “Crazy thought: instead of watching CNBC & then deciding to ‘get yours’ and sell off hotel stock, why not ‘go on’ TV and share your insights with all Americans?”
Gaetz tweeted in response to U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., saying Burr owes North Carolinians an explanation that it was “such a low-energy establishment Senate response. “Self-referral” to “Senate Ethics” is the safe space where Senators can judge their own w/o real culpability."
Gaetz’ comments were viewed with suspicion by some Democrats and never-Trump supporters given that he also tweeted “Worth noting that Chairman Burr was swampily complicit in dragging an innocent @DonaldJTrumpJr before Senate Intel time & time again.”
Those groups believed Gaetz was trying to force Burr’s removal as Intelligence committee chairman as payback for Burr’s role in allowing the committee’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
Kokai said the timing of the announcement could "have something to do with the pending change in presidential administration ... a political benefit for the incoming Biden administration in having the case closed."