BELLAVIA: Yesterday, things got serious

Rep. Chris Collins' response to charges is "deeply shameful"

August 09, 2018 - 8:18 am
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Buffalo, N.Y. (WBEN-David Bellavia) - In January 2017, the Washington Post and Politico reported that they overheard an obnoxious Congressman on the floor of the House of Representatives bragging about how many millionaires he’s made in Buffalo thanks to his stock tips. As insignificant as this bravado may have seemed on its surface, Congressman Chris Collins’ pomposity would ultimately have lasting effects on President Trump’s administration. Former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, who got himself in hot water after a series of lavish spending on private planes, was also grilled by the Senate about an investment he made on the counsel of then-friend Chris Collins. The investment in question was a purchase of shares in an Australian Pharmaceutical company called Innate Immunotheraputics, a company which Chris Collins joined the board in 2013. 

In January 2017, Collins’ involvement with the company was brought to the House Ethics Committee after it was alleged that somehow Chris Collins used legislation to speed up the trial process of a promising drug to help people with MS. At that time, I wrote an op-ed for WBEN defending Chris Collins for what I still believe is an outrageous claim.

Yesterday, things got serious. 

What’s important here, is that back in January 2017 Chris Collins wasn’t overheard saying “I’m really close to single handedly solving the scourge of MS.” What Chris Collins was overheard saying was a boisterous declaration about how much money people made investing in a company that solves the scourge of MS. 

Fast forward to August 2018, where in a 30-page indictment by the Southern District of New York, US Attorney Geoffrey Bernard claims that in June of 2017, Cameron Collins, the son of Chris Collins, received an evening call from his dad minutes after he opened an email informing him that the trial drug was a failure. With this particular drug being the renaissance for the company, this of course meant Innate Immunotheraputics was in big trouble. A drug company that fails to make effective drugs is worthless and therefore the company’s stock plummeted by 90 percent.

The company’s crash didn’t hurt Cameron Collins, however. The Congressman’s son and his future in-laws were able to save nearly $800,000 because, as alleged in the indictment, he sold the stock before the information about the drug’s trial failure was made public allegedly due to the tip from his father who was on the board.

This was not about a cure for MS in June of 2017, nor was not about a cure for MS in January of 2017. For Chris Collins, this was always about money.

On Wednesday Chris Collins, after a 90-minute Sitzkrieg, took the stage alongside his wife at a press conference to make what he proclaimed would be his final statement about this very embarrassing episode. Unfortunately, Collins’ episode follows a continuing series of other embarrassing episodes featuring Congressmen from the 27th district in New York. 

While on stage, Collins gave us an origin story of how he made his money, how he achieved the American dream, and how his ambition was nothing short of yeoman’s work for having the tenacity to overcome the odds to become the richest sitting member of the House of Representatives. We heard about Collins’ own personal experience with the very serious disease of multiple sclerosis and that he wanted nothing more than to eradicate it from the face of the Earth. 

But the allegations have nothing to do with that. The allegations also have nothing to do with Chris Collins selling his own shares (which he failed to state at the press conference would have also been a felony since he is a sitting member of the board.) Nowhere in the 30-pages of the indictment does anyone from the FBI or the DOJ claim that Chris Collins ever sold his shares. What they do claim is that he gave privileged information as a board member to a member of his family, crimes that could get Collins up to 150 years in federal prison. 

While Innate Immunotheraputics might be on the top of Chris Collins’ international radar, locally he needs to be concerned with “Innate McMurray” who is sitting in Grand Island ready to run against Chris Collins with a much more robust chest of money than he had started Tuesday morning. The DCCC is set to pounce on NY District 27 with Nate McMurray.

As a conservative and as a Republican, our most important interest must be in preserving this seat. He may be a political neophyte, but McMurray is well along the path, establishing why he is worthy of the sacred trust of the American voter. 

Chris Lee stepped down for office in 2011 because he wanted to protect his family and his district from his personal shame. Whether you agree or disagree with why Chris Lee resigned, Chris Lee demonstrated that it wasn’t about himself. It was about the party, it was about the principle, and it was about the integrity of the trust between an elected official and the constituent. 

Chris Collins’ behavior addressing serious charges that could lead to major prison time are not just embarrassing, they’re deeply shameful, which further underlines the narrative that conservative republicans simply don’t care. 

The success of 2016 and Donald Trump’s presidency sent a message that a rich billionaire from New York City can appeal to the working class citizens of Michigan and Pennsylvania. Donald Trump’s ascendance to the President of the most powerful nation in the free world underscores how your tax bracket has nothing to do with needs of the people who are sick and tired of being ignored. The plight of working class America is the single reason why Donald Trump is President of the United States, and yesterday we learned that Chris Collins doesn’t owe us an explanation.

You would think a man who has shown such fidelity to Trump, being the first sitting member of Congress to endorse him during his candidacy, would take a chapter out of the success that Trump was able to overcome during some very dark times during the 2016 campaign. Rather, Chris Collins sadly did what Chris Collins has always done. He didn’t ask for our vote, he didn’t tell us why he’s earned our vote, and he didn’t tell us why we should trust him again. He simply stated he’s not going anywhere. 

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