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Editorials

Richard Burr’s troubles are not going away. So why isn’t he?

More than a week has passed since news reports revealed how U.S. Sen Richard Burr profited off the coronavirus while failing to warn his constituents at the early, critical stages of the crisis. Things are hardly getting rosier for North Carolina’s senior senator.

Burr has been abandoned by fellow Republicans, some of whom have called for his resignation. He’s been sued by a shareholder of Wyndham Hotels & Suites for selling off $150,000 of that company’s stock. The Securities and Exchange Commission has issued a statement that, while not using Burr’s name, warned members of Congress about doing what the senator is accused of doing — trading off privileged information and briefings. And, on Monday, the Washington Post reported that the Justice Department is investigating those stock trades.

He is toxic to his party. He is embarrassing to North Carolina. Clearly, his problems are not going to go away.

So why isn’t he?

In an editorial last Thursday, we had questions for Burr about a Feb. 27 luncheon in Washington in which the senator issued dire warnings about COVID-19 to the Tar Heel Circle, a nonpartisan group of North Carolina businesses and organizations. How could Burr, who knew enough to sell up to $1.7 million of his stocks on Feb. 13 before the market tanked, only share his intel with a small group of big donors? Why didn’t he reveal his concerns to all the constituents he is supposed to serve, as well as the national media? A Republican offering a different COVID-19 perspective than President Trump would have been, at the least, notable. Perhaps it might have jarred skeptical conservatives into safer behavior that slowed the spread of a virus now killing people across the U.S.

The senator has not provided adequate answers to those questions, and he has said he “relied solely on public news reports to guide my decision regarding the sale of stocks on February 13.” Reports, however, say that Burr and other members of the Senate Intelligence Committee and House Intelligence Committee were receiving “ominous, classified warnings” about the virus as early as late January.

Burr has asked the chairman of the Senate Ethics Committee to open “a complete review of the matter with full transparency,” and others have called for the SEC to investigate. We believe those probes should begin promptly, and if they reveal that Burr, in fact, acted illegally upon insider information, he should obviously resign.

But frankly, North Carolinians don’t need an agency or committee of Burr’s peers to tell us what he did was wrong. In a crisis that will define his state and country for years, the senator failed in his most fundamental duty, to serve and protect the people who elected him.

Now, everything he does will be colored by that failure. Republicans know Burr is an albatross, an example opponents will use throughout this election season to argue that too many in the GOP, especially the president, have seen COVID-19 through the lens of personal gains and losses. North Carolinians know that he will be a source of shame to our state, that until he honors his long-ago pledge to retire in 2022, he will be the N.C. senator who tried to steal a lifeboat all for himself.

As the coronavirus crisis worsens here and across the country, so will the weight of what Richard Burr did and didn’t do. It’s difficult to see him as a visible or viable representative of our interests. His effectiveness as a leader has been profoundly hobbled.

And yet, Burr seems to have no intention of doing everyone a favor and resigning. Sadly, that’s not a surprise. At the moment we needed him most, Richard Burr was thinking mostly about himself. One week later, that hasn’t changed.

BEHIND OUR REPORTING

What is the Editorial Board?

The Charlotte Observer and Raleigh News & Observer editorial boards combined in 2019 to provide fuller and more diverse North Carolina opinion content to our readers. The editorial board operates independently from the newsrooms in Charlotte and Raleigh and does not influence the work of the reporting and editing staffs. The combined board is led by N.C. Opinion Editor Peter St. Onge, who is joined in Raleigh by award-winning News & Observer writer Ned Barnett and in Charlotte by Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist Kevin Siers. Board members also include News & Observer President and Publisher Sara Glines, Observer Publisher Rodney Mahone and News & Observer executive editor Robyn Tomlin. For questions about the board or our editorials, email pstonge@charlotteobserver.com.

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