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Richard Burr, the Republican chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, will step down while an insider trading inquiry is carried out.

He said he had decided to do so because he did not want the investigation to distract the committee from its work.

Senator Richard Burr’s phone has been seized by the FBI as part of the inquiry.

The 64-year-old North Carolina senator, who denies wrongdoing, allegedly used inside information to avoid market losses from coronavirus.

He declined a request for comment.

Richard Burr and his wife sold as much as $1.7 million of equities in February, just before markets plunged on fears of an economic crisis.

It is illegal for members of Congress to trade based on non-public information gathered during their official duties.

Republican Senators Kelly Loeffler of Georgia and James Inhofe of Oklahoma, as well as Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, also reportedly sold holdings before the downturn, but are not confirmed to be under investigation.

Dianne Feinstein said she had answered questions from the FBI regarding trades made by her husband, however.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Senator Burr had contacted him to inform of his decision to step aside temporarily.

“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 [May 15],” Mitch McConnell said in a statement.

Richard Burr said: “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.”

The senator turned over his mobile phone to authorities after federal agents issued and executed a search warrant at his Washington, DC, home.

The justice department began investigating Richard Burr in March.

Public disclosures first investigated by ProPublica show the senator sold more than 30 stocks between late January and mid-February. Some of the stocks were in sectors now devastated by the coronavirus outbreak, such as the hotel, restaurant and shipping industries. 

Image source: Wikimedia Commons

As chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, Richard Burr receives nearly daily briefings on threats to US national security. He defended the transactions, saying he had “relied solely on public news reports” to instruct his decision to sell.  

However, the senator was criticized for publicly downplaying the seriousness of the virus, even as he privately sold equities and warned a private North Carolina business group of the stark risks it posed.

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Richard Burr’s lawyer, Alice Fisher, said in March the senator welcomed the justice department investigation because it would “establish that his actions were appropriate”. 

“The law is clear that any American – including a Senator – may participate in the stock market based on public information, as Senator Burr did,” she said. 

The bulk of Richard Burr’s sales occurred on February 13, just before his speech to the wealthy business constituent group about the dire economic impact of the coronavirus, at a time when the Trump administration was publicly downplaying the threat.

In an audio recording, obtained by US outlet National Public Radio (NPR) Richard Burr also told the group to curtail their travel. He has accused NPR of “misrepresenting” his speech. 

First elected to the Senate in 2004, Richard Burr chaired the Senate Intelligence Committee when it investigated Russian election interference in the 2016 presidential election.

The committee endorsed intelligence community findings that Russia had interfered on President Donald Trump’s behalf.

Richard Burr’s six-year term ends in 2023 and he does not plan to run for re-election, the Associated Press reports.

The Senate Intelligence Committee investigating Russian interference in last year’s election has issued a rare formal demand for documents from President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn.

Michael Flynn has failed to voluntarily co-operate with the investigation, the committee says.

The national security adviser was forced to resign in February after failing to disclose the content of his talks with Russian diplomats.

Meanwhile, the fallout continues over the firing of the FBI director.

The White House maintained that James Comey was removed on May 9 for his handling of the inquiry over Hillary Clinton’s emails.

However, senior Democrats said James Comey had recently asked the justice department for more resources for his Trump-Russia investigation.

The Senate Intelligence Committee said it issued a subpoena after Michael Flynn rejected its request on April 28 to submit documents relevant to the investigation.

Michael Flynn, a retired army lieutenant-general, misled the White House about discussing US sanctions against Russia with the country’s envoy, Sergei Kislyak, before President Trump’s inauguration in January.

Image source Wikimedia

His links to Russia are being scrutinized by the FBI and the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, as part of wider investigations into claims Moscow sought to tip the election in favor of Donald Trump, and into contacts between Russia and members of the president’s campaign team.

Reaction to James Comey’s firing continued on May 10, with a White House spokeswoman saying that President Trump had been considering sacking the FBI director since he was elected.

Howver, critics accuse President Trump of firing the nation’s top law enforcement official because he was leading the Russian inquiry.

The White House has rejected calls to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate allegations the Trump campaign colluded with the Kremlin over last year’s election.

The Senate Intelligence Committee invited James Comey to testify next week.

In a farewell letter to staff, James Comey said he would not “spend time on the decision or the way it was executed”.

“I have long believed that a President can fire an FBI Director for any reason, or for no reason at all,” he wrote.

“It is very hard to leave a group of people who are committed only to doing the right thing,” James Comey added.

“My hope is that you will continue to live our values and the mission of protecting the American people and upholding the Constitution.”

President Trump stood by his actions, saying James Comey was fired “because he was not doing a good job”.

On May 10, Democratic senators Dianne Feinstein and Richard Durbin told media that James Comey had asked Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein – who wrote the memo on which President Trump says the sacking decision was based – for more resources for the FBI investigation.

Justice department spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores called those reports “totally false”.

Either way, Republicans and Democrats vowed the House and Senate Intelligence Committees’ investigations into the Russia claims would continue.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said if President Trump believed replacing James Comey would halt the inquiries “he made a big mistake”.

The US Senate Intelligence Committee has demanded more information about contacts between the CIA and the makers of Osama Bin Laden film Zero Dark Thirty.

Kathryn Bigelow’s film is a dramatized account of the hunt for Osama Bin Laden and the 2011 mission which killed him.

In a letter to Acting CIA Director Michael Morell, three senators said the film-makers could have been misled by information provided by the CIA.

The film has been nominated for four Golden Globes and is one of the Oscars favorites.

Ahead of the US elections, Kathryn Bigelow’s film was accused of being a propaganda tool intended to assist President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign.

The US release of the film was subsequently put back until after November’s election.

The lawmakers have requested to see a copy of all the documents given to the film-makers by the CIA.

The letter, co-signed by Senate Intelligence Committee members Dianne Feinstein, Carl Levin and former presidential candidate John McCain, expressed concern over the “clear implication” in the film that extreme interrogation techniques had played a key role in locating Osama Bin Laden.

“Given the CIA’s cooperation with the film-makers and the narrative’s consistency with past public mis-statements by former senior CIA officials, the film-makers could have been misled by information they were provided by the CIA,” the letter says.

The US Senate Intelligence Committee has demanded more information about contacts between the CIA and the makers of Osama Bin Laden film Zero Dark Thirty

The US Senate Intelligence Committee has demanded more information about contacts between the CIA and the makers of Osama Bin Laden film Zero Dark Thirty

The letter adds that the film’s narrative conflicts with official statements that the CIA did not first learn about an Osama Bin Laden courier through a CIA detainee who had been subjected to “coercive interrogation techniques”.

It also said that, according to a separate Senate review, the most accurate information about the courier had been provided by a CIA detainee prior to any harsh interrogation.

The three US senators also wrote to the head of Sony Pictures Entertainment shortly before Christmas saying the film was “inaccurate”.

The senators claimed that Zero Dark Thirty “clearly implies that the CIA’s coercive interrogation techniques were effective in eliciting important information related to a courier” for Osama Bin Laden, who would unknowingly lead the agency to his compound in Pakistan.

Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal – who won Oscars in 2010 for The Hurt Locker – said last month the film depicted “a variety of controversial practices and intelligence methods”.

They said: “The film shows that no single method was necessarily responsible for solving the manhunt, nor can any single scene taken in isolation fairly capture the totality of efforts the film dramatizes.”

On Wednesday, The Hollywood Reporter reported that the Committee had begun an examination of records charting contacts between intelligence officials and Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal.

Reuters said the committee would also assess “whether CIA personnel are responsible for the portrayal of harsh interrogation practices, and in particular the suggestion that they were effective”.

A spokesperson for Sony told The Hollywood Reporter: “As the studio distributing Zero Dark Thirty in the United States, we are proud of this important film. Kathryn Bigelow, Mark Boal and their creative team have made an extraordinary motion picture and we fully support bringing this remarkable story to the screen.”

The film’s title is a military term for half-past midnight, the local time at which Osama Bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, was raided by US Navy Seals.

Zero Dark Thirty opens across the US on January 11 and is also considered a likely Oscar contender.

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Members of US Congress said Sunday they want to know more details about the FBI investigation that revealed an extramarital affair between ex-CIA Director David Petraeus and Paula Broadwell, questioning when the retired general popped up in the FBI inquiry, whether national security was compromised and why they weren’t told sooner.

“We received no advanced notice. It was like a lightning bolt,” said Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, who heads the Senate Intelligence Committee.

The FBI was investigating harassing emails sent by David Petraeus biographer and girlfriend Paula Broadwell to a second woman. That probe of Paula Broadwell’s emails revealed the affair between her and David Petraeus. The FBI contacted David Petraeus and other intelligence officials, and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper asked Petraeus to resign.

A senior U.S. military official identified the second woman as Jill Kelley, 37, who lives in Tampa, Florida, and serves as a social liaison to the military’s Joint Special Operations Command. The U.S. official said the coalition countries represented at the military’s Central Command in Tampa gave Jill Kelley an appreciation certificate on which she was referred to as an “honorary ambassador” to the coalition, but she has no official status.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to discuss the case publicly, said Jill Kelley is known to drop the “honorary” part and refer to herself as an ambassador.

The military official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to publicly discuss the investigation, said Jill Kelley had received harassing emails from Paula Broadwell, which led the FBI to examine her email account and eventually discover her relationship with David Petraeus.

A former associate of David Petraeus confirmed the target of the emails was Jill Kelley, but said there was no affair between the two, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the retired general’s private life. The associate, who has been in touch with David Petraeus since his resignation, says Jill Kelley and her husband were longtime friends of Petraeus and wife, Holly.

David Petraeus resigned while lawmakers still had questions about the September 11 attack on the U.S. Consulate and CIA base in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens. Lawmakers said it’s possible that David Petraeus will still be asked to appear on Capitol Hill to testify about what he knew about the U.S. response to that incident.

David Petraeus resigned while lawmakers still had questions about the September 11 attack on the US Consulate and CIA base in Benghazi

David Petraeus resigned while lawmakers still had questions about the September 11 attack on the US Consulate and CIA base in Benghazi

Rep. Peter King, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said the circumstances of the FBI probe smacked of a cover-up by the White House.

“It seems this [the investigation] has been going on for several months and, yet, now it appears that they’re saying that the FBI didn’t realize until Election Day that General Petraeus was involved. It just doesn’t add up,” said Peter King, R-N.Y.

David Petraeus, 60, quit Friday after acknowledging an extramarital relationship. He has been married 38 years to Holly Petraeus, with whom he has two adult children, including a son who led an infantry platoon in Afghanistan as an Army lieutenant.

Paula Broadwell, a 40-year-old graduate of the U.S. Military Academy and an Army Reserve officer, is married with two young sons.

David Petraeus’ affair with Paula Broadwell will be the subject of meetings Wednesday involving congressional intelligence committee leaders, FBI deputy director Sean Joyce and CIA deputy director Michael Morell.

David Petraeus had been scheduled to appear before the committees on Thursday to testify on what the CIA knew and what the agency told the White House before, during and after the attack in Benghazi. Republicans and some Democrats have questioned the U.S. response and protection of diplomats stationed overseas.

Michael Morell was expected to testify in place of David Petraeus, and lawmakers said he should have the answers to their questions. But Dianne Feinstein and others didn’t rule out the possibility that Congress will compel David Petraeus to testify about Benghazi at a later date, even though he’s relinquished his job.

“I don’t see how in the world you can find out what happened in Benghazi before, during and after the attack if General Petraeus doesn’t testify,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.

Lindsey Graham, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, wants to create a joint congressional committee to investigate the U.S. response to that attack.

Dianne Feinstein said she first learned of David Petraeus’ affair from the media late last week, and confirmed it in a phone call Friday with Petraeus. She eventually was briefed by the FBI and said so far there was no indication that national security was breached.

Still, Dianne Feinstein called the news “a heartbreak” for her personally and U.S. intelligence operations, and said she didn’t understand why the FBI didn’t give her a heads up as soon as David Petraeus’ name emerged in the investigation.

“We are very much able to keep things in a classified setting,” she said.

“At least if you know, you can begin to think and then to plan. And, of course, we have not had that opportunity.”

Jason Clapper was told by the Justice Department of the Petraeus investigation at about 5 p.m. on Election Day, and then called David Petraeus and urged him to resign, according to a senior U.S. intelligence official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the investigation publicly.

FBI officials say the committees weren’t informed until Friday, one official said, because the matter started as a criminal investigation into harassing emails sent by Paula Broadwell to another woman.

Concerned that the emails he exchanged with Paula Broadwell raised the possibility of a security breach, the FBI brought the matter up with David Petraeus directly, according to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to publicly discuss the investigation.

David Petraeus decided to quit, though he was breaking no laws by having an affair, officials said.

Dianne Feinstein said she has not been told the precise relationship between David Petraeus and the woman who reported the harassing emails to the FBI.

Georgia Sen. Saxby Chambliss, the top Republican on the Senate intelligence committee, called David Petraeus “a great leader” who did right by stepping down and still deserves the nation’s gratitude. He also didn’t rule out calling David Petraeus to testify on Benghazi at some point.

“He’s trying to put his life back together right now and that’s what he needs to focus on,” Saxby Chambliss said.