Gary Pearce: Was Burr’s vote revenge or statesmanship?

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 24, 2021

By Gary Pearce

Maybe Sen. Richard Burr’s “guilty” vote in Donald Trump’s trial was revenge on Trump for Trump getting revenge on him.

Or maybe it was a statesmanlike statement on the integrity of both the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections.

Both explanations trace back to the Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election – and the Trump campaign’s role. Sen. Burr co-chaired the committee, which was notable for its bipartisanship in such a partisan time.

The investigation lasted three years; the committee’s final report came out last August. Along the way, in May 2019, the committee subpoenaed Donald Trump Jr.

One year later, on May 13, 2020, the FBI began investigating Senator Burr for alleged insider stock-trading. Agents served a search warrant on Burr at his Washington residence and seized his cell phone. He stepped down as co-chair of the committee the next day.

Coincidence? Maybe. But as a wise old reporter used to tell me, “I don’t believe in coincidences.”

On Jan. 19, the day before Trump left office, the Justice Department announced Burr wouldn’t be charged. On Feb. 13, Burr voted to convict Trump for his role in the January 6 attack on the Capitol.

Burr’s vote was a bombshell.

Because senators were called in alphabetical order, he was the first Republican to vote guilty. USA Today reported that as voting began on the Senate floor, Burr “sat sockless at his mahogany desk with his legs crossed and his head looking down at his lap. He fiddled with his eyeglasses, tapping them on his desk repeatedly.”

When he stood and said, “guilty,” the paper said, “Senators in the chamber looked around at one another, clearly stunned. Reporters gasped while watching the vote from the balcony gallery above the Senate floor.”

If you read Burr’s statement that day and the Senate committee’s final report, you see a consistent concern about the integrity of both the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections. Burr’s statement said:

“The President promoted unfounded conspiracy theories to cast doubt on the integrity of a free and fair election because he did not like the results.

“As Congress met to certify the election results, the President directed his supporters to go to the Capitol to disrupt the lawful proceedings required by the Constitution. When the crowd became violent, the President used his office to first inflame the situation instead of immediately calling for an end to the assault.

“As I said on January 6th, the President bears responsibility for these tragic events. The evidence is compelling that President Trump is guilty of inciting an insurrection against a coequal branch of government and that the charge rises to the level of high Crimes and Misdemeanors. Therefore, I have voted to convict.”

The Senate committee’s investigation into 2016 lasted three years, interviewed 200 witnesses, and reviewed a million documents. The report is 1,313 pages long, in five volumes. The committee found that Russia engaged in an “extensive campaign” to elect Trump and that:

“(T)he Russian intelligence services’ assault on the integrity of the 2016 U.S. electoral process and Trump and his associates’ participation in and enabling of this Russian activity (my emphasis) represents one of the single most grave counterintelligence threats to American national security in the modem era.”

Thanks to the Senate trial and the House impeachment managers, we all know what Trump did to overturn the 2020 election. Burr knows more than anybody about what Trump, his campaign and the Russians did to turn the 2016 election.

Maybe he took a measure of revenge. He clearly took the measure of Donald Trump.

Gary Pearce was a reporter and editor at The News & Observer, a political consultant, and an adviser to Governor Jim Hunt (1976-1984 and 1992-2000). He blogs about politics and public policy at