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Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) announced Thursday that Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) is stepping down from his position as chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee pending an investigation into possible insider trading.

Why it matters: The news comes one day after reports that the FBI seized Burr's phone as part of the investigation. Burr, who had access to classified briefings about the coronavirus, dumped between $582,029 and $1.56 million in March just prior to the market crash. He has denied wrongdoing.

What they're saying:

  • McConnell: “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. 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.”
  • Burr: "“This morning, I informed Majority Leader McConnell that I have made the decision to step aside as Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee until this investigation is resolved. The work the Intelligence Committee and its members do is too important to risk hindering in any way. I believe this step is necessary to allow the Committee to continue its essential work free of external distractions."

Background: Burr was hit with a federal lawsuit in late March after ProPublica revealed his stock trading activity. The Department of Justice began an inquiry into Burr's stock transactions in late March in coordination with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

  • His brother-in-law, Gerald Fauth, dumped up to $280,000 in shares on the same day as the senator, according to more documents published by ProPublica.
  • Burr claims he sold his stocks because he "closely followed CNBC's daily health and science reporting out of its Asia bureaus at the time." He asked the Senate Ethics Committee in March to review his sell-off.

Flashback: Reuters reported on Feb. 27 that Burr had been receiving daily updates from the intelligence community about the outbreak in his role as Senate Intelligence Committee chairman.

  • NPR later reported that Burr told a private luncheon of constituents that same day that the coronavirus is "much more aggressive in its transmission than anything that we have seen in recent history."

The big picture: Stock trades around the same period by Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), James Inhofe (R-Okla.) and Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.) have also been scrutinized. All three have denied wrongdoing.

  • A spokesman for Feinstein told the New York Times that the FBI asked her in April about transactions made by her husband, and that the senator provided documents showing she had no involvement.
  • A spokeswoman for Loeffler denied that she has been contacted by federal authorities.

Go deeper

Hillary Clinton rips GOP senators: They seem like they've had a "lobotomy"

Hillary Clinton criticized her former Republican colleagues for their responses to the explosive findings in the Senate Intelligence Committee's report on 2016 Russian interference, accusing them of giving up "their principles, their values, their backbone" to follow President Trump.

Why it matters: The fifth and final volume of the committee's report released this week went further than the Mueller report in showing the extent of Russia's connections to members of the Trump campaign. But the reactions to the findings were starkly divided along partisan lines, with Republicans claiming that the report puts an end to any claims of Trump campaign "collusion" with Russia in 2016.

Convicts turn to D.C. fixers for Trump pardons

Trump confidante Matt Schlapp interviews Jared Kushner last February. Schlapp is seeking a pardon for a biotech executive. Photo: Samuel Corum/Getty Images

A flood of convicted criminals has retained lobbyists since November’s presidential election to press President Trump for pardons or commutations before he leaves office.

What we're hearing: Among them is Nickie Lum Davis, a Hawaii woman who pleaded guilty last year to abetting an illicit foreign lobbying campaign on behalf of fugitive Malaysian businessman Jho Low. Trump confidante Matt Schlapp also is seeking a pardon for a former biopharmaceutical executive convicted of fraud less than two months ago.

GOP plots payback for deplatforming Trump

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Capitol Hill conservatives are gaming out a multi-front war on the tech industry as retribution for deplatforming President Trump and others on the right, congressional sources tell Axios.

Why it matters: When you're in the minority, you figure out who you are as a party. With Republicans now looking up at the Democrats, they're searching for a unifying issue. This is one, at least for now.