Want the best of VICE News straight to your inbox? Sign up here.
The FBI has Sen. Richard Burr’s iPhone after raiding his Washington, DC residence on Wednesday as part of an investigation into stock sales linked to the coronavirus, multiple news outlets reported late on Wednesday.
Not only that, but the agents have also gained access to the senator’s iCloud accounts after serving a warrant on Apple, according to law enforcement sources speaking to the LA Times.
These moves mark a major escalation in the investigation, as approving the warrant against the Republican senator would have required the approval of the highest ranks of the Department of Justice.
Burr is chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and in March it emerged that he and his wife had offloaded as much as $1.7 million of his stock portfolio in 33 transactions between late January and mid-February.
At the time, Burr was receiving daily coronavirus updates as head of the Intelligence Committee and as a member of the Senate committee that handles health issues. The stock sales came just weeks before the market crashed.
Members of Congress are prevented by law from trading on information obtained through their work on Capitol Hill.
According to the report, the information gleaned from accessing Burr’s iCloud account was enough to convince a judge that there was probable cause to believe a crime has been committed and issue the warrant executed at the North Carolina senator’s home on Wednesday.
The source speaking to the LA Times, said Justice Department officials are probing communications between Burr and his broker.
Also implicated is Burr’s brother-in-law, Gerald Fauth, who sold up to $280,000 worth of six stocks, according to documents filed with the Office of Government Ethics. Burr has denied any coordinated stock trading with his brother-in-law.
Burr, the FBI, and the Department of Justice have all declined to comment on the latest developments.
Gaining access to Burr’s iCloud account would likely have given investigators access to Burr’s text messages — as well as his photos and a lot of other content that is typically backed up to Apple’s cloud system.
Burr is on record in favor of Apple handing over customer information to authorities: back in 2016, when Apple would not agree to unlock the iPhone of San Bernardino mass shooting suspect Syed Farook he wrote an op-ed for USA Today criticizing the corporation for “prioritizing its business model above compliance with a lawfully issued court order.”
But Burr is not the only member of Congress who will be worried about the latest developments.
Sen. Kelly Loeffler of Georgia, Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma, Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California have all sold significant amounts of stocks in recent months.
Loeffler, whose husband chairs the New York Stock Exchange, saved up to $1.5 million by selling stocks after a Jan. 24 Senate Health Committee briefing. She also bought stocks in Citrix, a company that makes telework software. The senator says she relied on independent advisors and wasn’t personally involved in the trading decisions.
But prosecuting members of Congress is not a straightforward process.
“It’s difficult to investigate sitting members: I’ve done it,” Kevin Muhlendorf, who helped run fraud investigations at the Department of Justice and worked for the enforcement division of the Securities and Exchange Commission, told VICE News in March “You have to jump through a lot of extra hoops.”
Cover: Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., listens during a virtual Senate Committee for Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions hearing, Tuesday, May 12, 2020 on Capitol Hill in Washington. The committee heard testimony from members of the White House coronavirus task force on how to safely open the country and get America back to work and school. (Win McNamee/Pool via AP)