Federal prosecutors charged Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.), one of President Trump’s earliest congressional supporters, with insider trading on Wednesday, alleging the congressman schemed with his son to avoid significant losses in a biotechnology investment.
Collins’s son, Cameron Collins, and Stephen Zarsky, the father of Cameron Collins’s fiancee, were also charged.
The indictment, secured by the U.S. attorney in Manhattan, is related to Collins’s relationship with Innate Immunotherapeutics, an Australian biotech company that was developing a treatment for multiple sclerosis. Collins was the company’s largest shareholder and on its board of directors, giving him access to confidential corporate information.
Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) issued a terse statement directing the House Ethics Committee to investigate. In fact, the committee had already been doing that, without disciplining Collins:
Before Wednesday’s indictment, Collins was already under scrutiny for his role in promoting Innate Immunotherapeutics, which had been developing a new therapy for multiple sclerosis before a high-stakes clinical trial failed last year, essentially putting the company out of business. In October, the Office of Congressional Ethics found “substantial reason to believe” that Collins violated federal law and House rules by meeting with federal officials in his congressional capacity to seemingly benefit the firm and also that he shared private information about the firm to solicit investors.
Among those from whom Collins allegedly solicited investments were family members, his congressional staff and House colleagues — including former congressman Tom Price, who later served as Department of Health and Human Services secretary. The House Ethics Committee is reviewing the Office of Congressional Ethics report but has not taken action against Collins.
The issue is broader than just whether Collins’s fellow congressmen are involved. Along with the Paul Manafort trial, which has become a tutorial on insider corruption, this is another sign of the GOP’s lack of ethical seriousness and its unwillingness to follow the rules it uses to bash Democrats, as well as a sign of Ryan’s general lack of leadership. Why hasn’t anything been done since last October?
In the short run, the Collins matter isn’t likely to affect November’s midterm elections. His upstate New York district is strongly Republican (though, so was Ohio’s 12th Congressional District). But this scandal may envelop more Republicans, and Democrats have an excellent argument that whether it is former EPA administrator Scott Pruitt’s egregious ethical conduct, or any of the Cabinet officials who allegedly abused their travel, or Trump’s foreign emoluments and his family’s apparent self-enrichment, the GOP has become the party that tolerates corruption. Far from cleaning up government, having control of the House, Senate and White House has meant no Republican gets held accountable for anything — unless it is by the FBI and the courts.
While it is true most voters care about bread-and-butter economic issues, anti-incumbent anger has already been running high. Collins’s arrest is only going to heighten the sense that incumbents are abusing their power at the expense of ordinary Americans. And, as in 1994 when a House bank scandal helped drive the Democrats out of the majority, or the 2006 scandals that involved Republican congressmen Mark Foley and Tom DeLay, another scandal has the potential to turn a big blue wave into a tsunami.