When Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.) was brought up on federal felony charges last year, he initially tried to back out of his re-election campaign. When state laws got in the way, the New York Republican reversed course and local voters re-elected him anyway in the single "reddest" congressional district in the northeast.
After pleading not guilty three weeks ago, Collins said he hadn't yet decided whether to run again in 2020. It now appears his future plans have taken an unexpected turn. NBC News reported this morning:
The first member of Congress to announce his support for Donald Trump's presidential bid is likely to plead guilty Tuesday to charges relating to insider trading, according to documents filed in federal court Monday.Rep. Chris Collins, R-N.Y., is scheduled to appear for a "change of plea" hearing in a Manhattan courtroom at 3 p.m. Tuesday. Collins pleaded not guilty to insider trading and several other charges when he was first indicted in 2018. Experts say the hearing means he is likely changing his plea to guilty.
Assuming there isn't another dramatic shift, when Collins changes his plea, the legal process will likely advance to the sentencing phase. If the GOP lawmaker ends up in prison, it's a safe bet he'll have to give up his House seat, though it's too soon to say how quickly this might happen. [Update: see below.]
Broadly speaking, there are a couple of angles to the controversy to keep in mind. The first is that the evidence against Collins was pretty brutal.
As regular readers may recall, Collins was a major investor in an Australian biomedical firm called Innate Immunotherapeutics – he also sat on the company’s board – while allegedly pushing legislation intended to benefit the company.
The Daily Beast reported last year that Collins has sponsored “several bills” that would have benefited Innate Immunotherapeutics, while also “trying to make changes to a government program that would save the company millions of dollars if its drug is approved by the FDA.”
That came on the heels of a New York Times report, based on findings from the Office of Congressional Ethics, which said that Collins “may have violated federal law by sharing nonpublic information about a company on whose board he served,” and “may have broken House ethics rules by meeting with the National Institutes of Health and asking for help with the design of a clinical trial being set up by the company.”
According to prosecutors, Innate Immunotherapeutics’ CEO emailed the congressman a couple of summers ago, letting Collins know about an unsuccessful clinical trial, which would inevitably push the company’s stock lower. Within six minutes, the lawmaker allegedly reached out to his son, who in turn contacted his fiancée’s father, all of whom engaged in “timely trades” of the company’s stock.
As NBC News reported a while back, “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.”
According to the Buffalo News, Collins' co-defendants also plan to change their plea.
Meanwhile, the other thing to remember about this case is that Donald Trump, whose 2016 candidacy Collins championed, complained publicly about the New York congressman's indictment, suggesting the Justice Department should have considered the Republican Party's electoral interests ahead of the 2018 midterms.
I continue to believe it was among the most indefensible moments of his presidency to date.
Update: Collins today submitted his letter of resignation. It takes effect tomorrow.