Republican Congressman Chris Collins of New York, who was indicted last year for his alleged role in an insider trading scheme, resigned from his seat Monday amid reports that he will plead guilty to federal charges on Tuesday.
Collins was arrested in August of 2018 after more than a year of Washington watchdog groups demanding a federal probe into his activities. Although Collins temporarily suspended his re-election campaign shortly after the arrest, he ultimately won his race—albeit by an incredibly slim margin in a historically Republican district.
It is now up to New York Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo to set a special election for the district. Multiple Republicans and the Democrat whom Collins narrowly beat in the last cycle had already announced their campaigns for the seat in 2020.
According to Jerry Zremski, Washington bureau chief for The Buffalo News:
Drew Hammill, a spokesman for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, said her office received Collins' resignation letter Monday. Hammill said Collins' resignation will become effective Tuesday.
A new court filing in the case, filed in federal court in Manhattan, shows that U.S. District Court Judge Vernon S. Broderick scheduled a court hearing where Collins—who had pleaded not guilty to all the charges against him—will change his plea.
Zremski also shared the congressman's resignation letter on Twitter Monday:
— Jerry Zremski (@JerryZremski) September 30, 2019
As a result of the federal probe, Collins was charged with securities and wire fraud, conspiracy, and making false statements to FBI agents. The Daily Beast noted Monday that "earlier this month, he lost several important pre-trial motions, including an attempt to use the Constitution's protection of 'speech and debate' by members of Congress to cover the alleged insider trading conversations."
Collins was the largest investor and sat on the board of the Australian biomedical firm Innate Immunotherapeutics. He is accused of leaking nonpublic information on a failed clinical trial to his son Cameron Collins. Based on the congressman's tip, Cameron Collins and his fiancée's father, Stephen Zarsky, allegedly avoided hundreds of thousands of dollars in losses by dumping stock in the company. A second docket entry from Monday suggests that they also intend to change their pleas to guilty.
BREAKING: Rep. Chris Collins, the first Trump-supporting congress member, will change his plea tomorrow in insider trading case.
— Adam Klasfeld (@KlasfeldReports) September 30, 2019
News of Collins' resignation was welcomed by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), a group that had long raised concerns about congressman's ties to the firm. The watchdog group tweeted Monday that "he illustrated the weakness of congressional ethics rules by holding his seat for a year despite the charges."
Collins, a four-term congressman, was one of the first House Republicans who endorsed Donald Trump's presidential campaign in 2016.
Before news of Collins' resignation broke, Steven Shepard—Politico's senior campaigns and elections editor and chief polling analyst—wrote Monday for the outlet's "Playbook PM" newsletter about Democrat Nate McMurray and the Republicans who had announced they were running to oust the incumbent in 2020:
Collins' district should be solid Republican territory, but the incumbent's baggage—he was charged three months before the 2018 election—almost cost the GOP his seat last November. Trump won the Western New York district by nearly 25 points in 2016, but Collins' margin of victory over Democrat Nate McMurray was fewer than 1,100 votes, or 0.3 points.
If Collins resigns as part of a plea deal with the Justice Department, it would set up a special election free-for-all for his seat—but probably ease the GOP's efforts to hold onto it in the next Congress. Republicans have already been lining up to challenge Collins if he ran for reelection: The primary field against him includes two GOP state senators, Chris Jacobs and Rob Ortt. And McMurray, last year's Democratic nominee, is running again, too.
In response to Collins' resignation Monday, McMurray said in a statement that "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," he added. "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."
McMurray's platform includes reversing Citizens United, fighting for a "living wage" for all workers, investing in infrastructure, protecting farmers' from U.S. trade wars, implementing universal background checks for gun sales, passing Medicare for All to ensure healthcare as a human right for all Americans, supporting the right to terminate pregnancies, funding efforts to combat the opioid crisis, legalizing cannabis, and protecting Social Security. The Democrat does not accept corporate PAC money.
Brady, a national group that advocates for measures to prevent gun violence, welcomed Collins' resignation and highlighted McMurray's campaign in a tweet Monday:
BREAKING: @RepChrisCollins has resigned. With his resignation comes another seat ready to be filled by a gun safety champion.@Nate_McMurray, we're looking at you! #2020Election #EndGunViolence https://t.co/xK9Ptk2jWF
— Brady (@bradybuzz) September 30, 2019
This post was updated to remove a reference to a Politico report that changed following the congressman's resignation.