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FBI seizes phone of top senator in insider-trading probe: reports

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Washington (AFP)

The FBI has seized a cellphone of US Senator Richard Burr to see if he used his insider access to classified intelligence to sell stock before the coronavirus pandemic struck, according to news reports Thursday.

The Los Angeles Times said federal agents wielding a warrant seized the cellphone of the Republican Senate Intelligence Committee chairman late Wednesday at his Washington home.

They have also accessed Burr's personal files on his i-Cloud account in the investigation, and this information led them to the phone, the newspaper reported, quoting law enforcement officials.

NBC News also reported on the cellphone seizure, citing an unnamed senior law enforcement official.

One of the most respected and non-partisan Republican senators, Burr came under investigation after reports showed he had dumped stocks and warned donors of the looming COVID-19 pandemic in February even as the White House played down the danger.

Burr, who receives almost daily briefings from the US intelligence community on threats to the country, himself wrote on the Fox News website on February 7 that the US government was "better prepared than ever" for the COVID-19 virus, assuring Americans that they were well-protected.

But as President Donald Trump repeatedly said the virus would not hit the United States hard, on February 13 the North Carolina senator and his wife suddenly sold off at least $628,000 and as much as $1.7 million in stocks, the ProPublica media group revealed in March, citing financial filings.

On the same day, Burr's brother-in-law sold as much as $280,000 worth of shares, ProPublica reported last week.

Since then stock markets have plunged as the disease swept the world. Nearly 1.4 million Americans have been confirmed infected and over 84,000 died, more than any other country.

Two weeks later Trump told the public that the 15 cases so far reported could be the US peak.

The same day Burr, who receives much of the same intelligence that the White House does, told a private gathering of wealthy donors that coronavirus was a threat like the 1918 Spanish Flu, which killed tens of millions.

"There's one thing that I can tell you about this: It is much more aggressive in its transmission than anything that we have seen in recent history," he said.

Neither Burr's office nor his lawyer responded to requests for comment on the news report.

pmh/dw

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