New York Republican Rep. Chris Collins, who last year was arrested by the FBI alongside his son and the father of his son’s girlfriend on insider trading charges, but managed to win reelection anyway, will reportedly resign from Congress and is expected to plead guilty.
For those who have followed Collins closely in Congress, this news is both huge and incredibly unsurprising.
Collins has become an important figure in Washington politics under President Donald Trump; the first congressional Republican to endorse the president’s candidacy, he was one of Trump’s close confidants on Capitol Hill and always toed the Republican line.
When Republicans held the House majority, he was known for being loose-lipped about closed-door meetings with Trump, and is often found holding court with congressional reporters. He would often say that he preferred to exhaust the press, rather than the other way around. It gained him some name recognition — in New York state politics and definitely in Washington.
Before Trump, Collins wasn’t a household name. He was never a member of House Republicans’ leadership team, and despite once being discussed as a political contender for a gubernatorial bid in New York in 2010, he hasn’t been much of a political player outside his western New York district.
He did hold a seat on the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee, which has purview over public health, but he’s not known as a policy mastermind and former House Speaker Paul Ryan pulled Collins from the committee in light of the arrest. Yet in both of Republicans’ major policy fights since Trump’s election — health care and tax reform — Collins appeared to always be around the circles that mattered.
The other thing: It’s been a joke among staffers, lawmakers, and reporters in Washington that Collins would one day end up in jail.
Collins, who once dismissed the charges against him, is expected to change his plea to guilty Tuesday in Manhattan federal court. His son is expected to do the same Thursday. Even in the midst of that scandal, Collins won reelection in the 2018 midterms by a razor slim margin. But it looks like his days in politics are over.
The charges against Collins and why they’re such a big deal
Collins was arrested on charges relating to his connection to the Australian biotech company Innate Immunotherapeutics. As the company’s largest shareholder, Collins allegedly shared private insider information with his son Cameron Collins, who then passed on information to his fiancee’s father, Stephen Zarsky.
According to the indictment, inside knowledge of a failed drug trial allowed Zarsky to avoid nearly $800,000 in investment losses. Collins change in plea would be major development in a corruption scandal that’s been unfolding for several years.
The federal indictment charges Collins, his son, and Zarsky with 13 counts of wire fraud, securities fraud, and making false statements to the FBI. Collins’s lawyers said the lawmaker would be “vindicated” at the time. That is expected to change Tuesday — although it is not clear if Collins will plead guilty to all charges.
But what’s important to know is that Collins isn’t just some ordinary backbench Republican lawmaker with possibly shady business dealings.
Collins got on the Trump train early; he initially endorsed Jeb Bush, but then in February 2016 became the first congressional Republican to endorse Trump as a presidential candidate, a few days after Bush dropped out of the running.
“We need a chief executive, not a chief politician,” Collins said of Trump then. “Donald Trump is the individual as president that can lead this country and reclaim our great state and provide a bright future for our children.”
When the Access Hollywood tape came out on which Trump can be heard bragging about sexually assaulting women, Collins only doubled down in support.
The loyalty put the New York Republican in a good position. He was named to Trump’s presidential transition team after the 2016 election as a congressional liaison and maintained a personal relationship with the president. He would get invites to White House lunches — where he sat next to Trump — and went on television to support the president.
Even when the congressional ethics committee started investigating Collins for the very same allegations of insider trading he was arrested for, Vice President Mike Pence fundraised for Collins.
And in congressional policy fights around health care and tax reform, Collins was the kind of politician who was blunt about the divisions within the Republican conference while finding a way to elevate Trump above the party infighting. He voted for the House’s Obamacare repeal-and-replace bill and the tax bill — both of which disproportionately disadvantaged New York constituents.
He says he did it for the party Trump now leads — not his constituents: “My donors are basically saying, ‘Get it done or don’t ever call me again,’” Collins said during the tax fight.
Collins has been dogged with allegations of ethics violations for a while
The indictment, served by the US attorney in Manhattan, was damning.
“Collins, who, by virtue of his office, helps write the laws of this country, acted as if the law did not apply to him,” US Attorney Geoffrey Berman said at a news conference when Collins was first arrested in 2018. Collins, his son, and Zarsky all pleaded not guilty at the time.
While Berman made clear that this arrest is not related to Collins’s position as an elected official, his ties to this Australian biotech firm haven’t been just a family affair.
The Office of Congressional Ethics reported that it found “substantial reason to believe” Collins was using his position in Congress to personally benefit the company and solicit investors. GOP lawmakers told reporters that Collins has urged his colleagues to invest in the company on the House floor. A number of Republican members of Congress, including Texas Reps. John Culberson and Mike Conaway, are also investors in this company.
Both the Hill and the Daily Beast reported on Collins’s habit of bragging to colleagues that he knew how to make a buck. The Washington Post’s Mike DeBonis even once tweeted about overhearing Collins:
OH in the speaker's lobby: 'Do you know how many millionaires I've made in Buffalo the past few months?' -@RepChrisCollins on his cellphone— Mike DeBonis (@mikedebonis) January 10, 2017
Collins was never known for keeping his investments under wraps, even on the House floor.
To reporters on Capitol Hill, Collins’s arrest is a major development in an ongoing scandal — one that makes it easier for Democrats to make the case that Trump isn’t draining the swamp.