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Burr decision sends shock waves through Senate

Sen. Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrAs Trump downplayed the virus publicly, memo based on private briefings sparked stock sell-offs: NYT Hillicon Valley: Subpoenas for Facebook, Google and Twitter on the cards | Wray rebuffs mail-in voting conspiracies | Reps. raise mass surveillance concerns Bipartisan representatives demand answers on expired surveillance programs MORE's (R-N.C.) decision to temporarily step down as chairman of the Intelligence Committee sent shock waves through the Senate on Thursday. 

The announcement, made in a statement by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMcConnell: Battle for Senate 'a 50-50 proposition' 'Packing' federal courts is already a serious problem What a Biden administration should look like MORE (R-Ky.), visibly shocked several of Burr's colleagues, who appeared to be learning the news as reporters asked them about the decision. 

Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntWorking together to effectively address patient identification during COVID-19 Trump announces intention to nominate two individuals to serve as FEC members Power players play chess match on COVID-19 aid MORE (R-Mo.), a member of GOP leadership and the Intelligence Committee, appeared unaware that Burr had decided to step down. 

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"Has he done that?" Blunt said when asked by reporters 

Sens. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioHillicon Valley: Big Tech hearing the most partisan yet | Rubio warns about foreign election interference | Trump campaign site briefly hacked Rubio warns that election interference may ramp up around Election Day Senate GOP to drop documentary series days before election hitting China, Democrats over coronavirus MORE (R-Fla.) and Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsGideon holds 3-point lead over Collins in new poll The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - One week out, where the Trump, Biden race stands The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Facebook - Justice Barrett joins court; one week until Election Day MORE (R-Maine), who are also members of the panel, appeared to have not seen the statement from McConnell. 

"Oh wow," said Collins. "I don't know what to say, I truly didn't know about it. He's been an excellent chairman of the committee."

Collins and Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerHillicon Valley: Big Tech hearing the most partisan yet | Rubio warns about foreign election interference | Trump campaign site briefly hacked Rubio warns that election interference may ramp up around Election Day Senate Intel leadership urges American vigilance amid foreign election interference 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, Warner and Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneEnsuring more Americans have access to 5G technology Pence won't preside over Barrett's final confirmation vote Gaffes put spotlight on Meadows at tough time for Trump MORE (S.D.), the No. 2 Republican senator, near the well of the Senate.

Asked by a gaggle of reporters if he expected to become chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Rubio appeared perplexed: "Um, why?" 

"I haven't heard that," he added when informed that McConnell had announced that Burr would step aside pending the outcome of the FBI's investigation. 

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McConnell's statement announcing the decision by Burr to step down temporarily came just as senators were arriving in the Capitol for a pre-scheduled noon vote. 

Rubio, asked as he left the vote if he got more information while on the floor, noted that the news was "just out." 

"I mean I wish they would time these things better," he quipped.

It was the latest turn since reports surfaced in March that the Justice Department was conducting a probe into 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.

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

But the questions around the sales escalated on Wednesday night after the Los Angeles Times reported that the FBI had carried out a warrant to confiscate Burr's cellphone as part of its investigation. 

Burr and McConnell both said that the North Carolina senator called the GOP leader on Thursday morning to inform McConnell that he had decided to temporarily give up his chairmanship — a decision that McConnell said he agreed with. 

Burr also addressed the decision during a closed-door GOP lunch on Thursday, telling his colleagues that he decided to step aside "so that this didn’t cause a difficulty on the committee or within the conference." 

Republicans largely held back from questioning Burr on Thursday, with several saying that he deserved a presumption of innocence pending the outcome of the FBI investigation. 

Asked about Burr's comments in the lunch, Sen. Mike RoundsMarion (Mike) Michael RoundsDuring pandemic, 'telehealth' emerging as important lifeline to connect patients with caregivers The Hill's Campaign Report: Team Trump on defense over president's comments on white supremacy Trump says Proud Boys should 'stand down' after backlash to debate comments MORE (R-S.D.) told CNN that "he was supported." 

No GOP senator had publicly called on him to step down from being chairman of the Intelligence Committee, though some pundits, including radio host Hugh Hewitt, have called on him to step down from being Intelligence Committee chairman while under investigation. 

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Burr's decision, which will go into effect on Friday, comes at a crucial moment for the committee. It's expected to vote next week on Rep. John RatcliffeJohn Lee RatcliffeHillicon Valley: Big Tech hearing the most partisan yet | Rubio warns about foreign election interference | Trump campaign site briefly hacked Rubio warns that election interference may ramp up around Election Day Trump campaign website suffers apparent hack MORE's nomination to be the next director of national intelligence and the committee is expected to release its final report on Russian interference in the 2016 election by the August recess. 

Senate GOP conference rules only require a senator to give up their gavel if they've been indicted with a felony. Sen. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezTrump appointee sparks bipartisan furor for politicizing media agency Senate Democrats hold talkathon to protest Barrett's Supreme Court nomination Watchdog confirms State Dept. canceled award for journalist who criticized Trump MORE (D-N.J.) stepped down as ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee when he was indicted on corruption charges. 

But several senators indicated on Thursday afternoon that they supported Burr's decision. 

"I think he's trying to do what he thinks is the right thing and I respect that," said Sen. John CornynJohn CornynCook moves Texas to 'toss-up' Biden pushes into Trump territory Cruz: Hunter Biden attacks don't move 'a single voter' MORE (R-Texas). 

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamLate donor surges push election spending projections to new heights Pence seeks to lift GOP in battle for Senate Wall Street backed Biden campaign with million in 2020 cycle: report MORE (R-S.C.) added that he did not believe Burr had done "anything criminally wrong." 

"The bottom line is, let's just see how this turns out I've nothing but good things to say about Richard Burr," he said.