NPR's Mary Louise Kelly speaks with Jerry Zremski of The Buffalo News about New York Rep. Chris Collins' resigning from the House ahead of his expected guilty plea to insider trading charges.
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
All right - to another story now. Republican Congressman Chris Collins of New York is resigning his seat in Congress. This all began last year. Collins was indicted for numerous charges related to insider trading. Last month, he pleaded not guilty to all charges. But tomorrow, Collins is due in federal court in Manhattan for a change of plea hearing.
To tell us what that means, we are joined by Jerry Zremski of The Buffalo News. He has been reporting on the congressman's alleged unlawful involvement in an overseas scheme, and he's in the studio now, too - busy in here today.
Jerry Zremski, welcome.
JERRY ZREMSKI: Thanks. Thank you for having me.
KELLY: All right. Briefly lay out for us what exactly Congressman Collins is accused of having done.
ZREMSKI: Congressman Collins is accused of getting a tip via email from the CEO of a company on which he sat on the board. It's called Innate Immunotherapeutics. It's an Australian biotech firm. And the allegation is that while the congressman was at a White House picnic in June of 2017, he got this email from the president of Innate saying, look; the clinical trials of our only product, a multiple sclerosis drug, had failed - meaning the company's only product was worthless, and the stock was about to tank.
ZREMSKI: Congressman Collins is accused of then calling his son from the White House lawn on his cellphone. And then the next day, Cameron Collins - his son - according to prosecutors, dumped most of his shares of Innate stock, saving himself more than $500,000 in the process. Then Cameron Collins is accused of going to his future father-in-law and telling his future father-in-law, which was not public information as of yet. That meant the future father-in-law, Stephen Zarsky, according to prosecutors, was also able to dump his stock and save more than $140,000.
KELLY: OK. So it's quite the story. However, the congressman had denied all of it. As we said, he pleaded not guilty to all charges. Do we know what changed so that he's now going back for this change of plea hearing?
ZREMSKI: It's really quite shocking that this happened at this point in time because only three weeks and five days ago, he stood outside the federal courthouse in Manhattan and told a bunch of reporters, including me, that he's looking forward to being exonerated. Something happened behind the scenes, or he was simply lying to us that day and he was negotiating a plea right that very...
KELLY: OK. But we don't know what has happened behind the scenes.
ZREMSKI: We do not know what's happened behind the scenes.
KELLY: We do know that his co-defendants, who you mentioned - his son and his prospective father-in-law - they are also going in for change of plea hearings.
ZREMSKI: Yes, they are. They're having their hearing on Thursday.
KELLY: OK. How is all this playing in his district, which is a really reliably Republican district, right?
ZREMSKI: Well, back last fall when he ran for reelection and when he won, the way it played was, he's a Republican. He's better than any Democrat, no matter what he did. The sense that Republican voters had was that they didn't want to elect a Democrat who would support Nancy Pelosi for speaker. As it turns out, Nancy Pelosi became speaker anyway.
KELLY: Yeah (laughter). OK. So where does this go next? I gather his resignation is expected to take effect as of tomorrow.
KELLY: So they'll have to do - what? - a special election to fill that seat.
ZREMSKI: Yes. Governor Cuomo will have to schedule a special election to fill that seat. We don't know exactly when, but it - we're - it's not going to be as if that congressional seat is vacant until January of 2021. There will be an election before that, and there are already several strong Republican candidates.
KELLY: And it's just a given that this seat will stay Republican.
ZREMSKI: Not 100% given. The Democrat who ran last time, Nate McMurray, came within a hair's breadth of winning. So it's conceivable the Democrat would win, but it would be a very, very tough, tough opportunity. It's probably unlikely that a Democrat would win in the most Republican district of the state.
KELLY: That is Jerry Zremski. He's Washington bureau chief for The Buffalo News. Thanks so much.
ZREMSKI: Thank you very much - appreciate it.
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