April 15, 2021

Burr Uses Nominee Hearing To Repeat Phony Stock Trading Charge

Burr Uses Nominee Hearing To Repeat Phony Stock Trading Charge

At this morning’s confirmation hearing for Biden nominee James Kvaal to be Under Secretary of Education, Senator Richard Burr (R-NC), the ranking Republican on the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, renewed false, thoroughly debunked charges that Obama administration officials engaged in improper collusion with Wall Street short sellers who were betting against companies in the for-profit college industry. 

This was pretty rich, especially given the recent probe of Senator Burr for possibly trading his own stocks early last year with inside knowledge of the growing COVID pandemic. 

In his opening remarks, Senator Burr piously spoke at Kvaal, “I want to carefully point out your close proximity to potentially unethical conduct at the Department under the Obama administration.” Burr stressed he was only discussing such “proximity… not central involvement” or else, he implied, he would be taking a much tougher stance. 

Then Burr regurgitated a stale, messy word salad of ominous-sounding charges: “Official emails being sent to and from, private emails, close collaboration with short sellers on market moving information, and an administration official using his old advocacy organizations and their emails to try to hide the public scrutiny in furtherance of a partisan objective.”

Hmm. Burr continued, “Noting that no charges were ultimately made, I’m gonna give you the benefit of the doubt, uh, given your background in higher education. But …I know that my colleagues on the other side of the aisle would be screaming from the rooftops about a nomination of someone who’d been involved even remotely with providing deliberative and confidential regulatory information to short sellers on Wall Street.”

What are these charges? The same old claims that Burr and other allies and paid shills of the for-profit college industry have been spouting since 2010: that the fact that some Obama Department of Education officials agreed once to listen to a short-seller’s presentation about troubles at for-profit colleges — just as they regularly met with representatives of colleges and other advocates — somehow constituted collusion or stock manipulation.

The Department of Education’s inspector general office investigated these very charges and issued a report in 2012. It concluded, “the Department appropriately handled sensitive information.” No improper disclosures. No collusion. 

Yet Burr continues to repeat the phony claims, in the tradition of Donald Trump and other demagogues who believe that repeating a lie can make it come true.

Disclosure: For-profit college shills have leveled such baseless lies about ties to short sellers not only against Department officials but also against me. They have done so as recently as this month, repeating numerous long-debunked falsehoods against, among others, me and former deputy under secretary of education Robert Shireman. Financial support for my higher education work has always come entirely from charitable foundations and groups concerned with the quality and integrity of higher education, not from anyone with a financial stake in these issues. (One of those groups has been the Institute for College Access and Success (TICAS), a higher education research and advocacy organization founded by Shireman and subsequently run by Kvaal.)

There is nothing to these lies but an ugly effort by for-profit college owners and shills desperate to hang on to the flow of taxpayer dollars to their scam schools. 

Burr’s mini-attack on James Kvaal was particularly obscene because Burr himself was recently probed by the Justice Department as to whether he traded stocks based on information from closed-door Senate briefings on the coronavirus, held in early 2020 as the virus spread intensified. The DoJ probe included grand jury subpoenas and the FBI seizure of Burr’s cellphone. Justice closed the investigation in January without charges.

If Burr did trade stocks improperly, he’s an absolute hypocrite for falsely accusing others of the same conduct. If Burr was innocent, he apparently learned nothing from the episode about fairness and decency. 

It is undisputed that Richard Burr has repeatedly accepted campaign contributions from the for-profit college industry, an industry with some good programs but dominated by predatory companies offering a toxic mix of deceptive recruiting, high prices, and poor quality instruction that leave many former students — veterans, single moms, and others — buried in overwhelming debt. 

At today’s hearing, Burr also attacked the gainful employment rule — a measure adopted by the Obama administration to end federal aid to worst-of-the-worst career training programs that consistently leave graduates with debts they cannot afford to repay — as “inherently politically motivated to hurt for-profit institutions.” The charge that efforts to hold predatory colleges accountable, thereby assisting students, taxpayers, and better quality schools, are “political” makes no sense, yet it is endlessly repeated by executives from for-profit colleges and the lobbyists, lawyers, PR shills, and politicians compensated to do the industry’s bidding.

Near the end of today’s hearing, Richard Burr told Kvaal, “I think you will be confirmed, and I will probably be supportive of that.” That’s only right because Kvaal, a brilliant policy expert, is eminently qualified for the job. So why did Burr have to renew his baseless short seller line?

Burr, who is retiring at the end of this Congress, demonstrated integrity earlier this year in voting to convict Donald Trump on the overwhelming evidence that Trump incited the murderous, traitorous attack on the U.S. Capitol.  It’s a shame, and it’s shameful, that Burr has not extended that integrity to ending his phony attacks — echoing the charges of a corrupt predatory industry– on dedicated public servants who did nothing wrong.