Illustration for article titled Secret Recording Shows Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Warned Rich Donors About Coronavirus Weeks Before Us
Photo: Mark Wilson (Getty Images)

While the president was busy telling America that the coronavirus was well under control, lying about the number of people infected and claiming that health experts’ data on the virus’ death rate was false because of a hunch, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee was warning a small group of rich donors some three weeks before shit really hit the fan.

According to NPR, who received the secret recording, Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) spoke frankly, more frankly than he ever had in public, about the dangers and fears surrounding the impending pandemic.

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From NPR:

On Feb. 27, when the United States had 15 confirmed cases of COVID-19, President Trump was tamping down fears and suggesting that the virus could be seasonal.

“It’s going to disappear. One day, it’s like a miracle. It will disappear,” the president said then, before adding, “it could get worse before it gets better. It could maybe go away. We’ll see what happens.”

On that same day, Burr attended a luncheon held at a social club called the Capitol Hill Club. And he delivered a much more alarming message.

“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, according to a secret recording of the remarks obtained by NPR. “It is probably more akin to the 1918 pandemic.”

NPR notes that Burr’s statement was made during a luncheon organized by the Tar Heel Circle, “a nonpartisan group whose membership consists of businesses and organizations in North Carolina.”

It only costs anywhere from $500 and $10,000 to be a member of the group, and clearly membership has its privileges. NPR notes that a guest list shows that dozens of businesses and organizations from North Carolina were in attendance. Many of those companies donated large amounts of money totaling some $100,000 to Burr’s 2015 and 2016 election campaign. Burr will not be running for reelection in 2022.

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Also from NPR:

Thirteen days before the State Department began to warn against travel to Europe, and 15 days before the Trump administration banned European travelers, Burr warned those in the room to reconsider.

“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?” Burr said.

Sixteen days before North Carolina closed its schools over the threat of the coronavirus, Burr warned it could happen.

“There will be, I’m sure, times that communities, probably some in North Carolina, have a transmission rate where they say, ‘Let’s close schools for two weeks. Everybody stay home,’ “ he said.

And Burr invoked the possibility that the military might be mobilized to combat the coronavirus. Only now, three weeks later, is the public learning of that prospect.

“We’re going to send a military hospital there; it’s going to be in tents and going to be set up on the ground somewhere,” Burr said at the luncheon. “It’s going to be a decision the president and DOD make. And we’re going to have medical professionals supplemented by local staff to treat the people that need treatment.”

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Burr clearly knew what he was talking about since he wasn’t just the Intelligence Committee chairman; he also helped with “the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act (PAHPA), which forms the framework for the federal response.”

The ironic part is that Burr’s temperament and warnings to his constituents painted a picture that was extremely bleak and accurate, yet, that’s not anything close to what he told the public.

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On Feb. 7, Burr co-authored an op-ed that made it look like the U.S. government had it all under control.

“No matter the outbreak or threat, Congress and the federal government have been vigilant in identifying gaps in its readiness efforts and improving its response capabilities,” Burr’s co-authored missive read.

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The piece continued: “The public health preparedness and response framework that Congress has put in place and that the Trump Administration is actively implementing today is helping to protect Americans. Over the years, this framework has been designed to be flexible and innovative so that we are not only ready to face the coronavirus today but new public health threats in the future.”

In a statement on March 5, Burr claimed: “Luckily, we have a framework in place that has put us in a better position than any other country to respond to a public health threat, like the coronavirus.”

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But it was all bullshit, or maybe not bullshit but the lower-tier version of the story we could afford; like general admission opera tickets, this version didn’t afford us the real coronavirus news.

Burr’s office did not directly respond to a list of questions sent by NPR. Because of course, they didn’t.

Senior Editor @ The Root, boxes outside my weight class, when they go low, you go lower.

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