BUFFALO, NY - AUGUST 08: U.S. Rep. Chris Collins (R-NY), with his wife Mary at his side, holds a news conference in response to his arrest for insider...
John Normile

Despite arrest, Republican congressman expects to win re-election

Updated

The Rachel Maddow Show, 8/8/18, 9:50 PM ET

Long-brewing scandal leads to Republican congressman's arrest

Jerry Zremski, Washington bureau chief for The Buffalo News, talks with Rachel Maddow about following the scandal of Rep. Chris Collins’ dealings with an Australian pharmaceutical company that has led to his arrest on charges of insider trading.
Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.) wasn’t just a major investor in Innate Immunotherapeutics, an Australian biotech company, he also encouraged others to follow his lead, including members of his family and his congressional colleagues. With that in mind, consider what the New York Republican did when the company’s CEO emailed him last summer to let him know about an unsuccessful clinical trial, which would inevitably push the company’s stock lower.

[W]ithin six minutes came a flurry of phone calls to reach his son, who owned more than 2 percent of Innate stock, prosecutors said. He finally reached Cameron Collins, who allegedly passed the information from his father to [Stephen Zarsky, the father of Cameron Collins’ fiancée], and other unnamed co-conspirators, who then engaged in “timely trades” of the stock.

Cameron Collins unloaded his Innate shares, as did his fiancée and Zarsky, in the days that followed. Zarsky’s wife and a friend also benefited from the move, prosecutors said.

On June 26, news of the failed drug trial was made public and the stock took a nosedive. The defendants managed to avoid more than $768,000 in losses, prosecutors allege.

Given these details, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that Chris Collins has been charged with, among other things, insider trading. What is surprising is that the New York Republican insists he’s innocent and expects to be re-elected in three months, while out on bail.

Indeed, watching Collins yesterday was a dizzying experience. In the morning, he surrendered to the FBI. In the afternoon, the congressman pleaded not guilty and issued a statement that read, “Because my focus is to defeat these charges in Court, after today, I will not address any issues related to Innate Immunotherapeutics outside of the courtroom.” Soon after, Collins announced he’d host a press conference, at which he said he looked forward “to being fully vindicated and exonerated.”

Time will tell whether the GOP lawmaker avoids conviction, but in the meantime, it’s hard not to wonder whether someone like Collins can win re-election under circumstances like these.

The answer is: it’s entirely possible.

Collins represents New York’s 27th congressional district, which is literally the most Republican district in the northeast, and a district Donald Trump won by nearly 25 points.

The indictment against the GOP congressman is absolutely brutal, and it’s easy to imagine Collins ending up behind bars as a result of his alleged misdeeds, but that doesn’t necessarily mean Republican voters in the district will hold any of this against him.

That said, Roll Coll  reported yesterday that Democrats are “salivating at the possibility that the congressman’s arrest Wednesday puts his Western New York seat in play.”

“With Collins’ arrest for corruption, unprecedented grassroots energy, and the strong candidacy of Nate McMurray, this seat is firmly in play for Democrats,” Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokeswoman Meredith Kelly said in a statement Wednesday.

McMurray, the Grand Island town supervisor, has referenced Collins’ ethics troubles as part of his campaign. Up to this point, his campaign hasn’t received much attention, in part because of his modest fundraising. He had $82,000 in cash on hand as of June 30, according to Federal Election Commission documents. Collins’ campaign had $1.3 million on hand.

In case this isn’t obvious, a Democrat running in the region’s most Republican district cannot expect to seriously compete with $82,000 in the bank. The question is just how much the race will change in the wake of Collins’ indictment.

The McMurray campaign said it raised more money yesterday morning than it had in the entire race to date, and while that’s a start, it will need to maintain that pace – and then some – in the final three months of the campaign.

As for the broader electoral landscape, Collins’ criminal proceedings don’t do his party any favors. The public is now hearing about a wealthy New York Republican and Trump cheerleader allegedly putting himself above the rules everyone else has to play by, trying to play a rigged game to benefit his associates.

The swamp, evidently, is not being drained.

Corruption and New York

Despite arrest, Republican congressman expects to win re-election

Updated