UPDATE: ProPublica reported on Thursday that Sen. Burr sold off up to $1.56 million in stock on February 13th, as he was reassuring the public about coronavirus preparedness. At the time, Burr and the Intelligence Committee were receiving daily briefings about COVID-19.
Original story below.
Three weeks ago, the Republican chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee privately warned dozens of donors about the harrowing impact the coronavirus would have on the United States, while keeping the general public in the dark.
In a secret recording obtained by NPR, North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr is heard giving attendees of a club luncheon a much different message than most federal government officials, especially President Trump, were giving the public at the time.
“There’s one thing that I can tell you about this,” Burr said, “It is much more aggressive in its transmission than anything that we have seen in recent history.” He added, “It is probably more akin to the 1918 pandemic.”
That pandemic claimed more than 600,000 American lives. While Burr’s public comments about the coronavirus at the time were rather tame, he provided facts about the dire reality of the virus to members of the Capitol Hill Club, a North Carolina group that consists of heads of businesses and organizations. According to federal records cited by NPR, the companies represented at the luncheon donated more than $100,000 to Burr’s election campaign in 2015 and 2016.
Burr warned the business leaders about effects on travel 13 days before the State Department released info on restrictions and 15 days before the Trump administration banned European travelers.
“Every company should be cognizant of the fact that you may have to alter your travel,” the Intelligence chairman said. “You may have to look at your employees and judge whether the trip they’re making to Europe is essential or whether it can be done on video conference. Why risk it?”
The senator also gave an early warning that school closings were more than likely going to occur. “There will be, I’m sure, times that communities, probably some in North Carolina, have a transmission rate where they say, let’s close schools for two weeks, everybody stay home,” Burr said.
All of this came from the senator on the very same day Trump was telling Americans that COVID-19 is “going to disappear. One day, It’s like a miracle. It will disappear.”
On Wednesday, the president was asked about the well-connected getting to the front of the line in regard to getting coronavirus tests, and Trump again said the quiet part out loud, casually remarking, “Perhaps that’s been the story of life.”
On Thursday, we learned that the Intelligence chairman meant to keep the quiet part to only elites and donors in his state — which raises questions about why Burr felt the need to keep what he knew contained. Was the fear of backlash from Trump stronger than his desire to save American lives?
The senator’s staff did not immediately return a request for comment.
This post has been updated.