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Opinion
Each Monday, Tommy Tomlinson delivers thoughtful commentary on an important topic in the news. Through these perspectives, he seeks to find common ground that leads to deeper understanding of complex issues and that helps people relate to what others are feeling, even if they don’t agree.

On My Mind: The Acts Of Richard Burr

Tommy Tomlinson

Right now, the most important currency we have – more than money, for a lot of us – is information.

How to get unemployment if you’ve been laid off. Where to get meals if you’re hungry. When to go to the doctor if you feel sick. The information changes, sometimes hour to hour. It’s vital that anyone whose job is getting information out – from news outlets to the government – is as transparent and complete as possible.

In these Virus Days, to hide vital information from the public would be immoral. To hide that information, and then use it to make a profit, would be unforgivable.

And that brings us to Richard Burr, senator from North Carolina.

Burr is the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, which means he has been getting daily briefings on the coronavirus. He’s also on the Senate health committee. When it comes to the coronavirus, he’s about as plugged in as he can possibly be.

So that’s the background to this. NPR broke the story that three weeks ago, Burr told a small audience at a luncheon that the coronavirus could be akin to the 1918 Spanish flu, which killed at least 20 million people worldwide, and somewhere on the order of 675,000 Americans.

Burr never said anything like that to the public – and at the time, President Trump was still saying the virus might be a seasonal thing that would just disappear.

That’s bad enough. But then ProPublica published a story saying that even before Burr gave that talk, he had sold off up to $1.8 million in stock that he owned. As a whole, the stock market has lost about 30% of its value since then. But big chunks of Burr’s holdings were in businesses such as hotel companies, who were hit especially hard as Americans stopped traveling.

So let’s be clear of the picture this paints. If these stories are true, then Burr had access to information about the virus that average Americans didn’t have. And instead of sharing that information, he used it to cut his losses in the stock market.

That’s the kind of thing a cartoon villain does on a bad soap opera. It is not what we would expect from our worst neighbor, much less a U.S. senator.

It is galling enough that Burr dodged the economic disaster landing on the rest of us, whether your 401(k) is tanking or whether you just got laid off and are trying to hang on.

But to think that he knew how bad this might get, and only told an inner circle of constituents? That could mean the deaths of people who didn’t have to die.

If all this isn’t a crime, it is a deep and profound moral failing.

Based on news reports, several other senators also cashed out stock around the same time. May their reckoning come due, too, one by one.

But Richard Burr is North Carolina’s problem. He says he based his moves on public news reports, and he has asked the Senate Ethics Committee to open a review of his actions.

He has a very short time to come up with a very compelling defense of what he has done to his office and the people he works for.

If he can’t, he has got to resign from office, and give away the money he made, and apologize to everyone he wronged, and walk away in shame.

Tommy Tomlinson’s On My Mind column normally runs every Monday on WFAE and WFAE.org. It represents his opinion, not the opinion of WFAE. You can respond to this column in the comments section below. You can also email Tommy at ttomlinson@wfae.org.

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