Chris Collins resigns from Congress

Chris Collins Set to Change Plea in Insider Trading Case

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New York, NY (WBEN) - Congressman Chris Collins has resigned from Congress according to Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office. Collins has also sent a letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo's office.

 

Collins resigned from Congress ahead of an expected guilty plea in an insider trading case in which he was accused of leaking confidential information during an urgent phone call made from a White House picnic.

Collins' resignation will take effect when Congress meets in a brief session on Tuesday, according to a spokesman for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

A federal judge in Manhattan scheduled a hearing for Collins to enter a guilty plea to unspecified charges in the case Tuesday afternoon. A similar hearing has been scheduled Thursday for the congressman's son, Cameron Collins.

Collins' congressional office declined to comment on Monday. His attorney didn't immediately respond to a message. The U.S. attorney's office in Manhattan also declined to comment.

Shortly after the announcement of the resignation, State Senator Rob Ortt, who's already declared his candidacy for NY27 issued this statement:

“It is vital that we continue to have a strong, conservative voice representing the residents of New York’s 27th Congressional District and elect a candidate who will defend President Trump’s agenda. I am the only candidate in this race who has proven that they are willing to do both. It is time that we send a battle-tested patriot to Washington who will stand up for our district, stand up to the Party of Impeachment, and push back against the radical socialists running our nation’s Democrat Party.”  

Congressman Brian Higgins issued this statement:

“For well over a year, the people of Western New York have been made to endure the consequences of the federal criminal indictment against Rep. Chris Collins, which show, in detail, how he disavowed the public’s trust for his own personal gain. His charges and subsequent suspension from deliberations in House committees and limited public engagements resulted in the people of Western New York - his 700,000-plus constituents – having lesser representation in Washington and here at home. Now, his resignation and expected change in plea to guilty, show to the people of Western New York and the nation that no one is above the law, no matter what level of privilege you possess. The Western New York community certainly deserves better.  This resignation allows us to move forward.”

ANALYSIS

WBEN Legal Analyst Paul Cambria said that Collins could also plead "no contest".

"It basically means you're pleading guilty but you're not admitting to the criminal conduct," Cambria said. "You're simply pleading guilty to dispose of the case. Rarely do I see (no contest) pleas given out but they have been given out. Sometimes you see a plea with a deferred prsecution which is a plea that after a period of time where no violations of the law...they'll set that plea aside. Rarely do I see them."

He said there could also be pleas to lesser offenses, which could bind the court.

"You make an agreement with the prosecution," Cambria said. "Then, if the court accepts the plea, and they don't have to, you're bound by the terms of the plea. That includes the sentence as well as what the offense is. There are a lot of possibilities."

Cambria said depending on what Collins pleads guilty to will determine his future in Congress. He said he's not sure if there's any "disqualifying plea". He said that there is a possibility Collins could still serve in congress despite a felony conviction.

"What the electorate would do is another story," he said.

POLITICAL IMPACT

Chris Collins has not stated publicly what he will do after his change of plea. However, there will be significant political impact.

"As I understand it, he would have to forfeit his seat in Congress if he pleads guilty to a felony," Political Strategist Carl Calabrese told WBEN's Sandy Beach. "No question there has to be a deal. I think we'll obviously know what the reduced plea is. What I'm not sure we'll ever know is the backstory. To what extent did they use his son's legal situation to pressure the congressman to take a deal?"

Calabrese said that because Cameron Collins sold stock, he was in a more dire situation than the congressman. Collins did not sell any of his stock, though the indictment alleges that he tipped off his son about the failed drug trial for Innate Immunotherapeutics.

"That's what (law enforcement does) to get guilty pleas," Calabrese said. "If they have leverage on you with a family member. They will use it."

Only four candidates have officially declared a run for the 27th congressional district in 2020. Democrat Nate McMurray is, once again, trying to take the seat out of the hands of republicans. Republicans Chris Jacobs, Rob Ortt, and Beth Parlato have all declared their candidacy to defeat the incumbent. Stefan Mychajliw has long been planning a run, though he has not officially entered the race. WBEN host and Medal of Honor recipient David Bellavia has also been suggested as a candidate, though he has said on multiple occasions he has no plans to run for Congress while serving with the Army.

McMurray issued this statement:

“The real victims of Collins' crimes are the people of his district that he repeatedly lied to about his guilt. Collins and Republican party insiders robbed his constituents of the representation they need on important issues like the rising cost of healthcare, the opioid epidemic, and the fight for good paying jobs. They all failed us, so I’m going to keep talking about the critical issues Western New Yorkers face every day, because that’s what public service should be about, working to make other people’s lives just a little bit better."

Calabrese described Ortt, Mychajliw, and Jacobs as the "A-list" candidates, though he noted that Parlato, who has never run for political office, has raised a significant amount of money.

"If David Bellavia comes in, I think that changes everything," Calabrese said. "...I would not be a bit surprised if he changed his mind and got into the race."

Congressman Brian Higgins learned of the Collins news at a press conference in Buffalo on Monday afternoon.

Listen to Higgins' full comments below:

Collins, who was among the first members of Congress to support President Donald Trump's run for the White House, had been scheduled to go to trial next year on charges of conspiracy, securities fraud, wire fraud and making false statements to the FBI. Prosecutors accused him of sharing non-public information from a biopharmaceutical company with his son, allowing Cameron Collins and another man to avoid nearly $800,000 in stock losses.

The case, filed in August of 2018, initially caused the 69-year-old Collins to drop a reelection bid, though he denied any wrongdoing and called the charges "meritless."

But he restarted his campaign a month later as Republican leaders were deliberating who would replace him on the ballot.

At the time he said the "stakes are too high to allow the radical left to take control of this seat in Congress."

The charges turned Collins' expected easy reelection in a strongly Republican district into a close race, but he managed to fend off Democratic challenger Nate McMurray by a thin margin.

With his departure from Congress, it would be up to Gov. Andrew Cuomo to set a special election to fill the seat, which leans Republican.

The charges stem from Collins' business ties with Innate Immunotherapeutics Ltd., a biotechnology company headquartered in Sydney, Australia. He was the company's largest shareholder, with nearly 17% of its shares, and sat on its board.

According to the indictment, Collins was attending the Congressional Picnic at the White House on June 22, 2017, when he received an email from the company's chief executive saying that a trial of a drug the company developed to treat multiple sclerosis was a clinical failure.

Collins responded to the email saying: "Wow. Makes no sense. How are these results even possible???" the indictment said.

It said he then called his son, Cameron Collins, and, after several missed calls, they spoke for more than six minutes.

The next morning, according to the indictment, Cameron Collins began selling his shares, unloading enough over a two-day period to avoid $570,900 in losses before a public announcement of the drug trial results. After the announcement, the company's stock price plunged 92%.

Cameron Collins is accused of passing along the information to his fiancée's father, so he could also dump his stock.

The most serious charge carries a potential prison term of up to 20 years.

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