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Burr to step down from Senate Intel panel amid stock sale probe

Sen. Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrGOP senator urges Biden to withdraw support for COVID vaccine patent waiver Utah county GOP censures Romney over Trump impeachment vote Battle lines drawn over Biden's support for vaccine waivers MORE (R-N.C.) is stepping aside as chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee amid an investigation into his stock sales from earlier this year shortly before markets crashed.

“Senator Burr contacted me this morning to inform me of his decision to step aside as Chairman of the Intelligence Committee during the pendency of the investigation," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOn The Money: Biden, Senate GOP take step toward infrastructure deal as other plans hit speed bumps Senate GOP to give Biden infrastructure counteroffer next week Masks shed at White House; McConnell: 'Free at last' MORE (R-Ky.) said in a statement Thursday.

“We agreed that this decision would be in the best interests of the committee and will be effective at the end of the day tomorrow,” he added.

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Burr later told reporters that "this is a distraction to the hard work of the committee and the members, and I think that the security of the country is too important to have a distraction."

He subsequently released a statement confirming that he told McConnell he would step aside "until this investigation is resolved."

"I believe this step is necessary to allow the Committee to continue its essential work free of external distractions," Burr added.

His decision to temporarily step down comes just a day after federal investigators seized Burr’s cellphone as part of an investigation into alleged insider trading.

The Department of Justice has been conducting a probe since March over Burr's sale of up to $1.72 million in stocks earlier this year. The stocks were sold in early February after senators received closed-door briefings on the national threat posed by the coronavirus, before most Americans were warned about the potential economic fallout of the pandemic.

Asked Thursday if he exercised poor judgement with the stock sale, Burr told reporters "no."

Burr has denied using any information he learned in his capacity as a senator to guide his decisions regarding selling his stocks.

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Earlier this month, ProPublica reported that Burr’s brother-in-law Gerald Fauth also sold a large portion of stock holdings in February before the stock market plunged.

Alice Fisher, who is advising Burr, told The Hill at the time that the North Carolina Republican “participated in the stock market based on public information and he did not coordinate his decision to trade on February 13 with Mr. Fauth."

Burr’s decision to step aside as committee chairman caught Republicans on the Intelligence panel by surprise.

“Wow,” said Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsMasks shed at White House; McConnell: 'Free at last' Senate GOP dismayed by vote to boot Cheney The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Cheney poised to be ousted; Biden to host big meeting MORE (Maine). “I don’t know what to say. I truly didn’t know.”

Collins and Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerBiden signs executive order to improve federal cybersecurity Overnight Defense: Former Pentagon chief to testify about Capitol riot Wednesday | Senate Intelligence chairman wants Biden to review US Space Command move Wyden: Funding infrastructure with gas tax hike a 'big mistake' MORE (D-Va.), the vice chairman of the Intelligence Committee, were later spotted having an animated discussion on the Senate floor.

Collins then spoke with Burr and Senate Republican Whip John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneGOP split on counteroffer to Biden's spending Senate GOP dismayed by vote to boot Cheney Top Democrat: FCC actions are a 'potential setback' to autonomous vehicles MORE (S.D.) near the well of the Senate.

Others were also surprised to hear about the move.

Asked about Burr temporarily stepping down, Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntOn The Money: Biden, Senate GOP take step toward infrastructure deal as other plans hit speed bumps Senate GOP to give Biden infrastructure counteroffer next week Biden says he and GOP both 'sincere about' seeking infrastructure compromise MORE (R-Mo.) asked, “Has he done that?”

Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioStudy: Early unemployment cutoff would cost 16M people 0B The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Cheney poised to be ousted; Biden to host big meeting Senate votes to repeal OCC 'true lender' rule MORE (R-Fla.), who is second in line to become chairman, appeared to be caught off guard as well.

Asked if he was interested in becoming interim chairman of the Intelligence Committee, Rubio responded, “Why?”

Rubio said he hadn’t heard about Burr’s decision.

Later, after a Senate floor vote, Rubio quipped to reporters: “I wish they would time these things better.”

He noted that McConnell has the power to appoint the interim chairman.

Rubio predicted that Burr would keep his seat on the committee, even though he will no longer serve as chairman.

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It wasn’t immediately clear who would take over the committee in the interim.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jim RischJim Elroy RischAny reduction in Energy Department's cybersecurity resources a mistake Biden cancels military-funded border wall projects Senate panel greenlights sweeping China policy bill MORE (R-Idaho), who is first in line to chair the Intelligence Committee but would have to give up his gavel on the Foreign Relations panel, declined to comment on his plans.

Senate Republicans earlier on Thursday had withheld judgment on Burr’s future as Intelligence Committee chairman, arguing he deserves a fair investigation.

Asked if Burr should relinquish his gavel, Thune told reporters: “Ultimately, those are all decisions he would have to make. He’s been a very capable chairman of the Intelligence Committee.”

“There’s a due process that he deserves like everybody does and that he’ll be going through,” Thune added. “Ultimately, that’s a conversation between him and the leader.” 

Thune noted there’s no requirement under Senate Republican Conference rules for a chairman to step down unless there’s a formal indictment.

McConnell ignored a question from a reporter earlier Thursday on whether Burr should continue to serve in his sensitive post while the investigation goes on.

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Sen. John CornynJohn CornynGOP split on counteroffer to Biden's spending Police reform talks hit familiar stumbling block CNN asks Carol Baskin to comment on loose Texas tiger MORE (R-Texas), a member of the Intelligence Committee, said Burr is “entitled to the same presumption of innocence as Joe BidenJoe BidenFauci says school should be open 'full blast' five days a week in the fall Overnight Defense: Military sexual assault reform bill has votes to pass in Senate l First active duty service member arrested over Jan. 6 riot l Israeli troops attack Gaza Strip Immigration experts say GOP senators questioned DHS secretary with misleading chart MORE,” an apparent reference to allegations of sexual assault against the former vice president by ex-Senate staffer Tara Reade.

Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulFauci on Rand Paul: 'I just don't understand what the problem is with him' Buckingham Palace requests 'Trump Train' remove image of queen from bus The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Cheney poised to be ousted; Biden to host big meeting MORE (R-Ky.), a prominent critic of the U.S. intelligence community’s practices, also declined to call for Burr’s removal as chairman.

“I don’t have enough information to make any kind of judgment,” he said earlier on Thursday.

Sen. John KennedyJohn Neely KennedyMORE (R-La.) said “just because you’re accused of something doesn’t mean you’re guilty of it.”

“He’s entitled to due process,” Kennedy added.

Burr in March said he asked the Senate Ethics Committee to review his stock transactions after he came under public criticism.

Kennedy said he trusts the Department of Justice and the Ethics panel “to get the facts.”

“We just have to let the process run its course,” he said.

Updated at 2:53 p.m.