Burr problem grows for GOP

Sen. Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrTexas Democrat Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson announces retirement at end of term On The Money — IRS chief calls for reinforcements Burr brother-in-law ordered to testify in insider trading probe MORE’s (R-N.C.) decision to temporarily step down as chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee amid an FBI probe into his stock transactions shook Senate Republicans on Thursday.

While Republicans praised Burr for standing down and offered support for a colleague, they acknowledged the FBI’s seizure of Burr’s cellphone created difficult optics for Republicans battling to retain their Senate majority.

One Republican senator who requested anonymity to comment on the political problem created by the FBI raid said the best-case scenario would be for Burr to be exonerated by the Justice Department before the Nov. 3 elections.

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The Republican acknowledged it looks bad for Senate Republicans as a whole but added that it would look worse if Burr resigned from office altogether.

GOP senators who did speak on the record also acknowledged the potential of an image problem.

“When you’re having to navigate through what he is, it will be a process and we’ll have to see how it ends up. Optics here are different probably than most places,” said Sen. Mike BraunMichael BraunRepublicans struggle to save funding for Trump's border wall Schumer-McConnell dial down the debt ceiling drama Cruz, Braun slam Library of Congress for forgoing term 'illegal aliens' to suit 'progressive preference' MORE (R-Ind.), who noted that serving in the Senate has the “highest profile in the country.”

“You have to contend with that,” he said. “You’re going to be held at a higher level of scrutiny, obviously.”

The stock sales by various senators in the weeks and days before the coronavirus pandemic radically altered life in the United States has been a simmering controversy for weeks.

It is one that has touched both parties.

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Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinNew variant raises questions about air travel mandates Progressive groups urge Feinstein to back filibuster carve out for voting rights or resign Senators call for Smithsonian Latino, women's museums to be built on National Mall MORE (D-Calif.) has been contacted by the FBI about her husband’s stock transactions. A spokesman for Feinstein said the senator “was asked some basic questions by law enforcement."

“She was happy to voluntarily answer those questions to set the record straight and provided additional documents to show she had no involvement in her husband’s transactions,” the aide said.

Sen. Kelly LoefflerKelly LoefflerSenate GOP worries Trump could derail bid for majority Perdue mulling primary challenge against Kemp in Georgia: report McConnell backs Herschel Walker in Georgia Senate race MORE (R-Ga.), who was appointed to her seat and sworn in on Jan. 6, has come under scrutiny for $20 million in stock transactions from late February and March. She is running this fall to retain her seat, but faces challenges from candidates in both parties, including Rep. Doug CollinsDouglas (Doug) Allen CollinsJan. 6 panel releases contempt report on Trump DOJ official ahead of censure vote Lobbying world Sunday shows preview: Biden administration confronts inflation spike MORE (R-Ga.), the former ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee.

A spokesperson for Loeffler on Thursday night revealed her boss had shared financial documents with the Department of Justice, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Senate Ethics Committee.

“Senator Loeffler has forwarded documents and information to DOJ, the SEC, and the Senate Ethics Committee establishing that she and her husband acted entirely appropriately and observed both the letter and the spirit of the law,” said the spokesperson.  

“The documents and information demonstrated her and her husband’s lack of involvement in their managed accounts, as well the details of those accounts. Senator Loeffler has welcomed and responded to any questions from day one,” the aide said.

Loeffler earlier on Thursday declined to say whether she had been contacted at all by the FBI, but her office later announced that she has not received a search warrant.

Burr sold between $628,000 and $1.72 million in stocks on Feb. 13 after receiving closed-door briefings on the looming pandemic. At the time, most Americans had failed to realize the seriousness of what was coming.

Alice Fisher, who is advising Burr, has told The Hill that the senator “participated in the stock market based on public” information.

On Thursday, Burr said he didn’t regret the transactions and had done nothing wrong. But he acknowledged that keeping his chairmanship would have caused “difficulty” for both his committee and the Senate GOP conference.

“I told them [I] resigned as chairman so that this didn’t cause a difficulty on the committee or within the conference,” Burr told reporters while leaving the Capitol Thursday afternoon.

Asked about his intention to remain in Congress until the end of 2022, when his term ends, Burr answered tersely: “Yeah.”

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He is expected to remain as a member of the Intelligence Committee as well, said a GOP source familiar with Burr’s plans.

The bombshell news of an FBI raid on the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee was the talk of Capitol Hill on Thursday morning.

Several Republican senators found themselves immediately on the defensive from reporters’ questions when they arrived to work, putting them in the awkward position of having to defend Burr.

Sen. John CornynJohn CornynCongress's goal in December: Avoid shutdown and default Mental health: The power of connecting requires the power of investing Senators call for Smithsonian Latino, women's museums to be built on National Mall MORE (R-Texas), a member of the Intelligence panel, sought to deflect questions about Burr’s chairmanship by arguing he was “entitled to the same presumption of innocence as Joe BidenJoe BidenCDC working to tighten testing requirement for international travelers On The Money — Powell pivots as inflation rises Overnight Energy & Environment — Presented by ExxonMobil — Manchin seeks 'adjustments' to spending plan MORE,” referring to allegations of sexual assault against the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSenate nearing deal on defense bill after setback On The Money — Powell pivots as inflation rises Schumer eyeing Build Back Better vote as soon as week of Dec. 13 MORE (R-Ky.) swiftly put an end to the speculation about Burr’s status as chairman by announcing “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.”  

The GOP leader acknowledged only a day earlier that Senate Republicans face a “challenging” political environment this year. The GOP holds a 53-47 seat majority, but a number of Republicans face competitive races in this cycle.

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Republican aides contrasted Burr’s decision with that of Sen. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezFive ways Senate could change Biden's spending plan Spending bill faces Senate scramble Republicans raise concerns over Biden's nominee for ambassador to Germany MORE (N.J.), the former Democratic chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who didn’t resign his gavel while under investigation by the Justice Department and only stepped down temporarily once he was formally indicted on bribery and corruption charges.

Senate Republican Whip John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneSenate nearing deal on defense bill after setback Congress's goal in December: Avoid shutdown and default No deal in sight as Congress nears debt limit deadline MORE (S.D.) expressed hope that the FBI seizure of Burr’s phone is a sign that it’s nearing the end of its investigation and that it will announce its findings soon.

“The legal process will unfold. My assumption is that this move by the FBI, hopefully, means they’re getting close to winding things up and we’ll see where it goes,” he said. “Obviously they’ve got to follow the facts. We’ll see what happens coming out of it.”

But Thune admitted “this situation a little bit murky.”