Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina has been accused of insider trading following a massive stock sell-off around the same time that he was receiving briefings on the coronavirus from U.S. public health officials. On Wednesday, FBI agents went to his residence to serve a search warrant targeting his phone records. One day later, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced that Burr would be stepping down as chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, adding that “we agreed that this decision would be in the best interests of the committee.”
As former DOJ spokesman Matthew Miller tweeted, “showing up at the home of a U.S. Senator and executing a warrant is not business as usual and not a step the FBI would take lightly.” Similarly, the L.A. Times reported that “such a warrant being served on a sitting U.S. senator would require approval from the highest ranks of the Justice Department and is a step that would not be taken lightly.”
Senator Burr should definitely be held accountable if it can be proved that he engaged in insider trading as the country was careening towards a pandemic. That is not only illegal, it is unconscionable behavior for a public servant. But Burr wasn’t the only one. Senator Kelly Loeffler of Georgia did the same thing. Why isn’t the FBI knocking on her door to serve a subpoena?
The first thing to know in answer to that question is that Senator Loeffler has been a loyal Trumpist—defending the president on everything from his extortion of Ukraine to his handling of the coronavirus. While Senator Burr has hardly been a Trump critic, during his tenure as chair of the Intelligence Committee he hasn’t toed the president’s line with respect to Russiagate.
Burr’s committee spent years investigating Russia’s attempt to interfere in the 2016 election and has so far produced four bipartisan reports on their findings. It was the most recent one that I described as a bombshell that got dropped on the Durham investigation.
To recap, it has been clear for quite a while now that one of Barr’s goals with the Durham investigation is to discredit the January 2017 U.S. intelligence community assessment (ICA) describing Russian interference in the 2016 election, which was commissioned by then-President Obama. This was the key finding of the ICA (emphasis mine).
We assess Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election. Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency. We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump. We have high confidence in these judgments.
The most recent report from the Senate Intelligence Committee found the ICA to be an accurate assessment of what occurred. That placed Senator Burr and his committee in direct opposition to how Attorney General Barr wants to re-write history. Is this treatment by the FBI retaliation, or an attempt to silence Burr? It sure looks that way.
It is also possible that the attorney general wants to get Burr out of the way as he and Grenell continue their process of selectively releasing classified information. For example, during an appearance on Tucker Carlson’s show Tuesday night, Ed Henry, who seems to have an inside track with Grenell’s office, said that his sources are telling him that the DNI is preparing to release four or five other batches of intelligence, including evidence suggesting that Putin actually wanted Clinton to win in 2016.
As Jonathan Chait documents, that goes against everything we know about what happened in the run-up to the 2016 election. But beyond what we watched happen with our own eyes and ears, Vladimir Putin publicly admitted his intentions during a press conference with Trump in Helsinki.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said Monday he wanted President Donald Trump to win the 2016 election because he believed Trump’s policies would be more friendly to the Kremlin.
“Yes, I did. Yes, I did. Because he talked about bringing the U.S.-Russia relationship back to normal,” Putin said, standing alongside Trump at a joint news conference.
We’ll have to wait and see what Grenell and Barr have planned. But it has become clear that we are witnessing the most corrupt and authoritarian abuse of the justice system in this country’s history—including what appears to be an attempt to silence a sitting senator.