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Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) speaking during a committee hearing in September 2021. Photo: Greg Nash- Pool/Getty Images

The Securities and Exchange Commission is investigating whether Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Gerald Fauth, his brother-in-law, violated federal securities laws by abruptly selling financial holdings early on in the COVID pandemic, court filings made public last week show.

Why it matters: The Department of Justice under the Trump administration opened and later closed an insider trading probe into Burr and several other lawmakers from both parties. But the new filings show that the SEC never dropped its investigation into the North Carolina lawmaker.

By the numbers: Burr, who chaired the Senate Intelligence Committee at the time, sold between $582,029 and $1.56 million worth of stock on Feb. 13, 2020, in companies that would be hit particularly hard by the coronavirus, according to transaction reports obtained by ProPublica.

  • Around that time, he was receiving daily updates from the intelligence community about national security threats against the U.S., including the growing coronavirus outbreak.
  • On Feb. 13, Fauth, who was appointed by former President Trump to the National Mediation Board in 2017, also dumped between $97,000 and $280,000 worth of shares in companies that would later be rattled by the virus.
  • The stock market tanked in response to the pandemic about a week after Burr's and Fauth's sell-offs, the SEC said in the court filing.

The filings stem from a case in which the SEC is attempting to force Fauth to testify in its investigation into whether he and Burr used "material nonpublic information" to benefit financially.

  • The agency is in part focused on multiple phone calls between Burr and Fauth in February 2020, including one particular call on Feb. 13 — the same day Burr and Fauth sold large quantities of stock.
  • On that day, the SEC alleges that Fauth initiated stock sales in his wife's brokerage account immediately after speaking to Burr on the phone for 50 seconds.
  • Directly before that phone call, Burr liquidated $1.6 million worth of stock in his and his wife's individual retirement account.
  • The agency said in the filing that it first subpoenaed Fauth on May 26, 2020. Fauth's counsel has maintained that he is unable to give testimony because of undisclosed health concerns.
  • The SEC argued that Fauth's health should not prevent him from complying with its subpoena because he has continued to serve on the National Mediation Board despite his health concerns.

The big picture: After the Justice Department opened its investigation into Burr, he stepped down as chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

What they're saying: Burr's office and lawyers for Fauth did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

  • Burr has previously denied any wrongdoing.

Go deeper: Lawmakers push for changes to insider trading rules

Go deeper

California father and son accused of "reckless arson" in Calder Fire

Firefighters at the Caldor Fire along Highway 89 west of Lake Tahoe, California, in September. Photo: Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

California officials said they arrested a father and son Wednesday on suspicion of starting the Caldor Fire, which threatened the Lake Tahoe area as it burned for over two months earlier this year. They deny any wrongdoing.

Why it matters: The wildfire was the 15th-biggest ever recorded in California, razing more than 1,000 structures, forcing thousands to evacuate and injuring five people as it burned across nearly 222,000 acres of land in El Dorado, Amador and Alpine counties.

New Zealand aims to create smoke-free generation with tobacco ban

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern at a December news conference in Auckland, New Zealand. Photo: Phil Walter/Getty Images

New Zealand officials announced Thursday legislative plans to outlaw smoking by making it illegal to sell or supply tobacco products to the next generation as part of a lifetime ban.

Why it matters: "People aged 14 when the law comes into effect will never be able to legally purchase tobacco," Associate Health Minister Ayesha Verrall said in a statement announcing the proposed law, part of the Smokefree 2025 Action Plan.

FDA approves AstraZeneca COVID drug for people with immune problems

Photo: Qilai Shen/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Food and Drug Administration issued an emergency use authorization for an AstraZeneca COVID-19 antibody drug for people with compromised immune systems.

Why it matters: The drug, Evusheld, is the first antibody therapy authorized in the U.S. to prevent coronavirus symptoms before virus exposure.