On Sunday night, after briefly touching on immunologist Rick Bright’s whistleblower testimony in front of Congress, accusing the Trump administration of ignoring his warnings about the novel coronavirus and their lack of preparedness, Last Week Tonight host John Oliver tackled “a major scandal brewing in Washington”: the curious case of Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
This past week, Sen. Burr was forced to step down as Intelligence Committee chair amid an FBI probe into his stock dealings—confiscating his cellphone in the process.
“It’s true: The FBI seized Burr’s cellphone on suspicion that he may have used non-public information from coronavirus briefings to dump shares ahead of the market crash,” Oliver explained. “The details here do not look particularly good for him.”
One day after a February briefing wherein Burr and other members of the Senate Intelligence Committee were briefed on the potential impact of COVID-19 on the economy, Burr sold off $1.7 million in stock that included shares in the travel and hotel industries.
“That is pretty damning. The only way that could have been any shadier is if Burr then bought a ton of shares in the actual coronavirus,” joked Oliver.
If that weren’t enough, Burr’s brother-in-law, Gerald Fauth, sold between $97,000 and $280,000 in stock on the same day he did—and a private recording emerged in late February of Sen. Burr warning a group of business executives that COVID-19 would have a dire impact on the country.
“Now, Burr staunchly maintains that he did nothing wrong here, basing his sales solely on news reports at the time. And you know what? Sure,” said Oliver. “But there are things in Burr’s past that are inherently suspicious. For one thing, there was his position on the Stock Act, which forbids members of Congress from trading on non-public information that they learn on the job. Burr was one of only three senators to vote against that legislation.”
He added: “So it seems Burr has found himself in a situation that’s not unlike that of the federal government: He got information about the coronavirus early, there are lots of questions about what he did with it, and now he is, if I may quote the testimony of a very tired public health official, ‘in deep shit.’”