Trump ally suspends reelection campaign

Embattled Rep. Chris CollinsChristopher (Chris) Carl CollinsThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Sanders set to shake up 2020 race House Dems release 2020 GOP 'retirements to watch' for Fighting AIDS domestically and globally means pushing more evidence-based services MORE (R-N.Y.) said Saturday he is suspending his reelection campaign as he fights charges related to insider trading — a dramatic reversal from a few days ago when he insisted he would be on the November ballot and seek reelection. 

“After extensive discussions with my family and my friends over the last few days, I have decided that it is in the best interests of the constituents of NY-27, the Republican Party and President TrumpDonald John TrumpSchiff urges GOP colleagues to share private concerns about Trump publicly US-China trade talks draw criticism for lack of women in pictures Overnight Defense: Trump to leave 200 troops in Syria | Trump, Kim plan one-on-one meeting | Pentagon asks DHS to justify moving funds for border wall MORE’s agenda for me to suspend my campaign for re-election to Congress,” Collins said in a statement.

He added he will continue serving the rest of his term and “fight the meritless charges brought against me.”

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The Justice Department charged Collins, 68, with securities fraud and lying to the FBI about his efforts to tip off family members with nonpublic stock information to help them avoid hundreds of thousands of dollars in investment losses.

Collins’s case centers on Innate Immunotherapeutics, an Australia-based bio-pharmaceutical firm that had been developing a drug to treat advanced multiple sclerosis. But when clinical trials showed the drug didn’t work, Collins — at the time firm’s largest shareholder and a board member — called his son, Cameron, and told him to sell off the stock before the news was made public, prosecutors alleged in the indictment.

Cameron Collins, 25, and his future father-in-law, Stephen Zarsky, 66, were charged with insider trading and lying to federal investigators.

All three pleaded not guilty. 

Collins, who was also the first member of Congress to endorse Trump for president in 2016, made the announcement Saturday after initially pledging to run for reelection on Wednesday. 

“I will mount a vigorous defense in court to clear my name," Collins said. "I look forward to being fully vindicated and exonerated.”

This week, he faced growing pressure to resign from the Buffalo-area congressional seat he’s held since 2013. Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanFive takeaways from McCabe’s allegations against Trump The Hill's 12:30 Report: Sanders set to shake up 2020 race McCabe: No one in 'Gang of Eight' objected to FBI probe into Trump MORE (R-Wis.) removed Collins from his position on the Energy and Commerce Committee and called for the Ethics Committee to investigate.

While Ryan and his GOP leadership team did not publicly call for Collins to step down, GOP sources said there was a “behind-the-scenes” effort in both Washington and New York to convince the defiant congressman that resignation was the best thing for the party three months before the crucial midterm elections.

In the days since Collins’s indictment and arrest Wednesday, there were a flurry of text messages and phone calls between Republican lawmakers, Capitol Hill aides, strategists and lobbyists concerned that the Collins corruption case could put his seat at risk and harm other vulnerable Republicans on the ballot, GOP sources said.

Some of these Republicans in Washington had been urging New York Republicans to personally appeal to Collins to resign, the sources said, making the case to him that he’s in an “untenable position.”

The pressure campaign took place mostly out of public view. Majority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthySteve King spins GOP punishment into political weapon Steve King asks for Congressional Record correction over white supremacist quote Steve King urges supporters to pray for his committee assignments to be restored: report MORE (R-Calif.) and Majority Whip Steve ScaliseStephen (Steve) Joseph ScaliseOn unilateral executive action, Mitch McConnell was right — in 2014 Texas man with politician hit list, illegally 3D printed rifle sentenced to eight years The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the American Academy of HIV Medicine - Will there be any last-minute shutdown drama? MORE (R-La.) have been silent on the matter.

“No one is above the law, but Chris deserves his day in court and we will wait to see what unfolds,” said New York GOP Chairman Ed Cox.

But one former Collins supporter, David Gunner, the highway superintendent of East Aurora in Collins’s district, circulated a public letter to his fellow New York Republicans on Friday calling on the former Erie County executive to quit Congress.

“I believe Collins has done good things for Erie County and our Congressional District. Many times, he’s made us proud. But this insider trading scandal has put our district in real peril,” Gunner wrote. “If he runs, I don’t think he can win. I don’t care how much money he has, he can’t buy this seat — the good people of NY27 won’t stand for it.”

In his open letter, Gunner argued that if Collins continued to remain on the Nov. 6 ballot, he would be a drag on GOP candidates down ballot, including state Assemblyman Ray Walter and local office holders. Nationally, the Collins controversy could cause Republicans to lose control of the House majority, Gunner said.

The charges against Collins’s son were considered important leverage to convincing the congressman to relinquish his seat, said one New York Republican source. Collins could strike a deal with prosecutors, offering to plead guilty in exchange for his son and Zarsky avoiding jail time.

“A natural conversation between the U.S. attorney and Collins’s attorneys is to go easy on the son and father-in-law if Collins resigns,” the New York source said. “I’m sure that’s a conversation that is going on right now.”

A spokesman for Collins’s attorneys at Baker Hostetler did not return a call for comment prior to his Saturday announcement.

Collins’s situation is reminiscent of former Rep. Michael Grimm, another New York Republican who in 2014 was charged by the Justice Department with 20 counts of tax evasion. Grimm, a brash New Yorker like Collins, fought the charges, ran for reelection that year and won.

But that December, Grimm struck a deal with prosecutors, pleaded guilty to felony tax evasion and resigned his Staten Island congressional seat. He served seven months in prison.

In an interview with The New York Times, Grimm said Collins is in for a rough ride, especially once he returns to Washington from the August recess. But he urged his former House colleague to just focus on the work.

“He’s going to have a really, really difficult emotional time,” Grimm told the Times. “And whether he knows it or not, a lot of Washington is going to look at him as a pariah."

“He should go right back to his job and remain professional,” he said.

A sign of how tough it’s going to get for Collins: A day after his indictment, fellow New York GOP Rep. Tom ReedThomas (Tom) W. ReedDrug pricing fight centers on insulin Dems ready aggressive response to Trump emergency order, as GOP splinters Dems hit GOP on pre-existing conditions at panel's first policy hearing MORE, teamed up with Rep. Kathleen RiceKathleen Maura RiceDem lawmakers to open probe into ‘complex web of relationships’ between NRA, Russia McCarthy, allies retaliate against Freedom Caucus leader How Pelosi is punishing some critics while rewarding others MORE (D-N.Y.) to bar lawmakers from following in Collins’s footsteps and serving on boards of publicly traded companies.

Reed, however, stopped short of calling for Collins to resign.   

“I recognize how serious the allegations are and how difficult this is for Chris and his family,” Reed told The Hill. “And they will have to make their own decision on how best to proceed.”

It is not clear what Republicans' next steps will be in Collins's district. Although he will suspend his campaign, he already won the GOP primary in his district and will likely remain on the ballot. 

Jerry Goldfeder, a New York–based lawyer who specializes in election law, told The Hill earlier this week that New York candidates can typically be removed from the ballot only if they die, run for another office or move out of state. 

Max Greenwood and Tal Axelrod contributed.

Updated at 11:33 a.m.