Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr is being criticized by liberals and conservatives due to the news he sold up to $1.6 million in stock after receiving private briefings about the coronavirus but before the stock market began its sharp decline.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., tweeted of the North Carolina Republican: “Burr knew how bad it would be. He told the truth to his wealthy donors, while assuring the public that we were fine. THEN he sold off $1.6 million in stock before the fall. He needs to resign.”
Tucker Carlson told his audience Burr needs to resign and await prosecution if he’s unable to explain his actions. He said if the allegations are true, that Burr has betrayed his country in a time of crisis.
It’s up to the people of North Carolina to decide Burr’s fate. They elected him and are best suited to make that decision. But it’s the job of the Republicans in the Senate to pick chairmen and committee slots. And it is long past time for Burr to step aside as chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.
Burr had already let the country down in that role. Under his leadership, the Senate Intelligence Committee was worse than useless at overseeing the intelligence community’s handling of the bizarre theory that Donald Trump was involved in an elaborate conspiracy with Russia to steal the 2016 election from Hillary Clinton. Burr helped perpetuate the idea that this was a reasonable and not insane theory, and took many actions to protect those who spied on the Trump campaign, leaked against Trump administration officials, and withheld evidence from the real congressional overseers on other Senate committees and in the House of the Representatives.
The only notable thing to have happened in that committee over the course of the Russia collusion hoax was the arrest of one of its staffers for lying regarding his leaks of information to reporters he was intimate with. Those reporters published information about the surveillance of Carter Page, a Trump campaign affiliate. Burr defended the staffer and begged that he not be imprisoned for his work in perpetuating the false and dangerous Russia collusion hoax.
When Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., could have used support for his brave and later vindicated work uncovering wrongdoing at the Department of Justice regarding the surveillance of Page, Burr instead joined Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., and activists in the media in strongly defending the Department of Justice’s applications to spy on Page. He told media outlets he saw nothing wrong with the applications and that there were “sound reasons” to spy on Page. The media lapped this up and used it as a way to further bash Nunes and the few overseers who sounded the alarm about wrongdoing.
A Justice Department Inspector General later confirmed and elaborated on the problems Nunes and his House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence found in those applications to spy on Page, two of which were later deemed invalid and another two of which are still under review. The inspector general catalogued numerous errors and failures in the securing of those wiretaps, including the falsification of evidence and 16 other major problems and errors.
Burr wasn’t just missing in action on the FISA abuse battle, he was actually harming the effort to properly oversee the FISA process and hold the abusers of that process accountable. As Axios put it, “Nunes and Burr, both Republicans, have consistently been on opposing sides” of how to handle the conspiracy theory of treasonous collusion with Russia to steal the 2016 election.
The special counsel that was wound up, ostensibly, to investigate that theory was unable to find a single American who had colluded with Russia, much less anyone associated with the Trump campaign. Yet Burr was a strong defender of the limitless probe that did so much to hamper the domestic and foreign policy of the Trump administration.
It’s an understatement to say that Nunes and Burr are on opposing sides. They have a completely different view of what congressional oversight is. For Burr, it means running interference for the intelligence community if anyone asks too many questions. For Nunes, it means the review, monitoring, and supervision of the intelligence community.
The two also had a different perspective on the service they could provide Americans regarding Russia’s malignant actions in the 2016 election. The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI), under the leadership of Nunes, managed to release a comprehensive investigative report into Russia’s 2016 election meddling by March of 2018. Burr’s committee has put out piecemeal reports in recent months that haven’t even begun to address all the issues that the House Intel Committee managed to, although they always manage to spout Democratic Party lines, or at least are easily spun by the media as doing so.
HPSCI Republicans provided an overview of Russian influence campaigns in other countries, a detailed account of their campaign against the U.S. 2016 elections, analysis of the U.S. government’s reaction, debunking of theories of Trump-Russia collusion, analysis of leaks about the ICA, and specific recommendations to improve U.S. election security. The country is still waiting for Senate Intel to put out its findings on any Russian collusion. It is unexpected that the Senate Intel Committee will find a collusion storyline that differs from Nunes’s or Robert Mueller’s, if it ever comes out.
The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence managed to put out its entire report while also tracking down who funded the Christopher Steele-invented dossier that got the conspiracy theory going. After court battles and much hard work, the world learned that Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee had secretly funded the dossier as a campaign operation, hiding the funding by running it through a law firm. HPSCI got that information from a subpoena for Fusion GPS bank records and the ensuing court fight.
Burr was nowhere to be found in that fight. Instead, he spent that time as a media darling who provided helpful quotes to those who wanted to perpetuate the Russia collusion hoax and in general by running interference for the continued investigation of the Trump campaign.
Burr bragged that he decided to more or less let ranking member Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., be cochairman of the committee. In fact, Warner seemed to be running the show.Burr even defended Warner when text messages were leaked that showed Warner had secretly tried to arrange a back channel to Christopher Steele outside the knowledge of the committee. Warner said he didn’t want a paper trail of his communications with the Russian oligarch lobbyist he was contacting to make the connection. Burr covered for him.
Because of Burr’s complete abdication of responsibility to oversee an out-of-control intelligence community, the task was left to his House Intel Committee counterparts, the Senate Judiciary Committee when it was led by Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, and the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee under Sen. Ron Johnson.
The Judiciary Committee is currently led by Sen. Lindsey Graham, who frequently goes on television to talk about bad actors he’s going to hold accountable some day. Previously, both of those Senate committees did some good work in getting information out about wrongdoings at various government agencies. Senate Intelligence, however, did nothing.
Under Burr, it was difficult to remember that Republicans actually controlled the Senate. It is a scandal that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell allowed him to hold this vitally important position for this long. It is inexcusable that he continue, even if there weren’t allegations he had profited from the briefings he received due to his position.
The American people could have used an ethical and responsible Senate Select Committee on Intelligence while the country was harmed by the peddling of the false and dangerous Russia collusion hoax. Some of that harm was caused by a media that uncritically took leaks from intelligence community bureaucrats. A lot of the harm was caused by the criminal behavior of the leakers themselves.
To date, nearly none have been held accountable. Burr is a big part of the reason they have not been held accountable. North Carolinians can decide if they want him as their senator, but no functioning Republican caucus should have him chairing a committee.