If there’s one thing that binds the Trump universe together, it’s the oppressive stench of shady activity. This applies to those closest to the president, as well those orbiting him from a distance, like Rep. Chris Collins (R-NY), a back-bench lawmaker who in February 2016 became the first member of Congress to officially endorse Trump’s campaign. On Wednesday morning, Collins surrendered to authorities after being indicted on a number of charges related to securities fraud. Central among the allegations is the lawmaker’s involvement with Australian pharmaceutical company Innate Immunotherapeutics Limited. Federal prosecutors allege that Collins sold his stake in the company shortly before the unfavorable results of a drug test it had conducted became public.
“We will answer the charges filed against Congressman Collins in Court and will mount a vigorous defense to clear his good name,” read a statement from Collins’ lawyers. “It is notable that even the government does not allege that Congressman Collins traded a single share of Innate Therapeutics stock. We are confident he will be completely vindicated and exonerated.”
House Speaker Paul Ryan isn’t as confident as Collins’ lawyers. Shortly after the news broke, Ryan announced he is removing Collins from the House Energy and Commerce Committee. “While his guilt or innocence is a question for the courts to settle, the allegations against Rep. Collins demand a prompt and thorough investigation by the House Ethics Committee,” said the speaker.
The indictment details strong allegations of insider trading. Collins served on the board of Innate Immunotherapeutics Limited. In June 2017, he and the rest of the board members received an email from the company’s CEO informing them that a drug test had failed. Shortly after receiving the email, Collins called his son. The next morning, his son sold over 16,500 shares of the company’s stock, avoiding losses of over $750,000.
This isn’t the first time Collins’ relationship with Innate Immunotherapeutics Limited has been called into question. The Office of Congressional Ethics had already been investigating whether Collins had engaged in insider trading prior to the company’s stock cratering last June. He had allegedly tipped off several other Buffalo-area business leaders about the potential windfall in investing in the company, which sold his friends — including other lawmakers — stock at discounted rates. Mike DeBonis of the Washington Post tweeted in January 2017 that Collins was bragging about how much money he made his friends in Buffalo.
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 not necessarily a player on the national stage before he endorsed Trump in February 2016. Since then, he’s risen to prominence, appearing regularly on TV to defend Trump, and serving as the congressional liaison for his transition team. Not long after he was inaugurated, the president reportedly phoned Collins’ optometrist to check on his long-time backer.
The indictment comes as several prominent members of Trump’s inner and outer circles grapple with allegations of criminal activity. On Tuesday, Forbes reported that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross may have “wrongly siphon[ed] or outright st[ole]” over $120 million from his former partners, essentially grifting them out of their money a few million at a time by transferring their interests in a private equity fund to himself, and then covering it up with “bogus paperwork.” The swindled partners filed a lawsuit against Ross in November 2017, and the commerce secretary settled out of court a few weeks ago. Last month, the Office of Government Ethics found that Ross had not properly divested from certain assets prior to becoming commerce secretary, which the OGE argued “created the potential for a serious criminal violation.” Ross chalked it up to “inadvertent errors” in financial disclosure forms.
There’s also Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, who is currently standing trial for a number of financial charges resulting from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the campaign’s relationship with Russia. So far it’s not looking good for Manafort. In addition to the revelation that he spent tens of thousands of dollars on a number of garish couture jackets made from the hides of various exotic animals — possibly in an effort to burn through otherwise difficult-to-spend funds tied up in illegal foreign bank accounts — another Trump campaign staffer, Rick Gates, this week testified that he and Manafort committed crimes together, which they then allegedly covered up at Manafort’s direction. Gates, who remained with the campaign after Manafort’s departure and served as the deputy chairman of Trump’s inaugural committee (which also reeks of corruption), was indicted with Manafort in October 2017, and has been cooperating with Mueller’s investigation for the past six months. Like, really cooperating.
— Jim Sciutto (@jimsciutto) August 7, 2018
But the bright star at the center of the shady universe is the president himself, who is currently fighting to discredit a mounting trove of evidence that he obstructed justice, violated campaign finance law, conspired with a foreign adversary to undermine America’s democratic process and God knows what else. As we’ve come to learn from the his Twitter feed, however, the president is totally innocent.