March 19, 2020/Press

LEAKED AUDIO: Senator Burr Privately Warned Business Leaders about Coronavirus. Publicly, He Said Nothing.

Three weeks ago, according to new leaked audio published by NPR, Senator Richard Burr “behind closed doors” warned members of a private organization whose membership can cost up to $10,000 that the coronavirus was “much more aggressive than anything we have seen in recent history.” But “nowhere” in press statements or other remarks did Senator Burr provide those same warnings to members of the public.

The leaked audio “raised questions about why an audience at a lunch on Capitol Hill would get what seemed to be a more frank assessment than the general public” — especially as the president offered a contradictory, optimistic outlook. That same day, President Trump said about the coronavirus, “One day, it’s like a miracle, It will disappear.”

In reality, President Trump and spineless Republicans have tried to downplay the coronavirus threat, with Senator Thom Tillis applauding the president for his “decisive leadership” even as it becomes clearer by the day that the administration’s mismanagement has helped “fuel” the outbreak by, among other things, “failing to secure enough testing to head off a coronavirus outbreak in the United States.


NPR: Burr Recording Sparks Questions About Private Comments On COVID-19
By David Greene
March 19, 2020

Key Points:

  • Rachel Martin: This is Morning Edition from NPR News, I’m Rachel Martin.
  • David Greene: And I’m David Greene. NPR has obtained a secret recording taken 3 weeks ago. You can hear the voice of Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr, a Republican in the Senate. You’re going to hear him warning a private audience about how the coronavirus would impact the United States.
  • Burr: There’s one thing I can tell you about this. It is much more aggressive than anything we have seen in recent history. It is probably more akin to the 1918 pandemic.
  • Greene: More akin to the 1918 pandemic as we heard him say there. This was a stronger message than most Americans were hearing at that time, and Burr’s comments raised questions about why an audience at a lunch on Capitol Hill would get what seemed to be a more frank assessment than the general public. NPR’s Tim Mak is the one who got his hands on this recording and is with us this morning. Hi Tim.
  • Tim Mak: The luncheon was organized by the Tar Heel Circle, which consists of businesses and organizations from North Carolina, the state that Senator Burr represents. Membership in the Tar Heel Circle cost between 500 and 10,000 dollars. Burr was talking candidly about his assessment of how about how bad the coronavirus might become in the U.S., and the tape comes from an attendee who became alarmed about Burr’s dire warnings, so began to record.
  • Mak: Well, Senator Burr warned well in advance that the coronavirus could be very destructive. A lot of the things he warned about have actually come to pass. Thirteen days before the State Department began to warn against travel to Europe and 15 days before the Trump administration banned European travelers from the U.S., Burr warned those in that room to reconsider.
  • Burr: Every company should be cognizant of the fact that you may have to alter your travel. You may have to look at your employees and judge whether the trip they’re making to Europe is essential or whether it can be done on video conference. Why risk it?
  • Mak: Sixteen days before North Carolina closed its schools due to the threat of coronavirus, Burr warned it could happen. It is only now 3 weeks later that the public is learning in earnest about how the military may be mobilized to combat the coronavirus, but Burr invoked the prospect when talking about how the country might have to surge its medical capacity.
  • Greene: Well Tim, I want to be really careful about the timing here. So all of those warnings were Burr’s message behind closed doors. What was he saying publicly at that same time?
  • Mak: Nowhere in press statements or other remarks did Senator Burr provide warnings about how bad he worried the coronavirus crisis would become, I think what’s interesting about this story is that Burr was providing a stark assessment about coronavirus to a small audience of constituents, which as an elected official he never told the general public about. This story raises questions about whether Burr was truly frank with the public about how bad the coming weeks might be in his opinion. Remember his comments at the luncheon contradicted the President’s then rosy outlook. That same day, here’s what the President said about the coronavirus.
  • Trump: It’s going to disappear. One day, it’s like a miracle, It will disappear. And from all shores,  we know it could get worse before it gets better, could maybe go away, we’ll see what happens.