It’s been about a month since Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.) was indicted for alleged insider trading. The criminal charges against the congressman were serious enough to force him to drop his re-election bid: Collins “suspended” his campaign less than a week after he surrendered to the FBI.
Though the New York Republican originally said he’d have nothing to say about the scandal outside of the courtroom, Collins has apparently decided to start talking publicly about his defense, starting with an interview with WIVB in Buffalo.
As TPM noted, Collins seemed to suggest the federal officials who showed up at his door didn’t treat him fairly – “It turns out, they don’t read you your rights, they don’t tell you you can have an attorney,” he explained – but just as interesting as what the congressman said is what viewers saw behind him:
Collins, notably, had several quintessential Trumpian decor items on full display throughout the interview: At least three Make America Great Again hats and a coffee mug emblazoned with a CNN logo that said “FNN” instead. A quick google search reveals “FNN” stands for Fake News Network, a wisecrack Trump is bound to enjoy.
Collins was the first House Republican to endorse Trump during the 2016 election and many have speculated he may be gunning for a presidential pardon if he’s convicted.
Ideally, we wouldn’t have to think this way. It’d be far better if we could simply question Chris Collins’ choice of décor as a matter of style and taste, not a possible scheme.
But the politics of pardons in the Trump era has its own set of rules.
The New York Times had a good report on this a couple of months ago, with a headline that read, “Pardon Seekers Have a New Strategy in the Trump Era: ‘It’s Who You Know.’”
Few constitutional powers lie so wholly at the whims of the president as the power to pardon. No details need to be worked out beforehand and no agency apparatus is needed to carry a pardon out. The president declares a person officially forgiven, and it is so.
A layer of government lawyers has long worked behind the scenes, screening the hundreds of petitions each year, giving the process the appearance of objectivity and rigor. But technically — legally — this is unnecessary. A celebrity game show approach to mercy, doling the favor out to those with political allegiance or access to fame, is fully within the law.
Donald Trump has already demonstrated a willingness to abuse his pardon power. It’s a safe bet Chris Collins is aware of that.
Indeed, let’s not forget that the congressman’s interview comes just a week after the president complained publicly about Collins’ indictment, making the case that the Justice Department should go easy on allegedly corrupt members of Congress in order to help the Republican Party’s electoral interests.