The charging documents in the case of Chris Collins, the Republican congressman from upstate New York accused of insider trading and lying to the FBI, are pretty amazing. I guess, in my innocence, I don't expect multimillionaire congressmen to be so stupid. Corruption doesn't surprise me, in fact I expect it, but I also expect a basic level of criminal competence, of adult sophistication, from people who've been alive for over sixty years and wormed their way to the top tier of American life.
Here is a summary of the government's case. Rep. Collins was on the board of a pharmaceutical company that was testing a drug that it believed would benefit people suffering from multiple sclerosis. He owned a ton of stock in the firm and, on his recommendation, his son Cameron, Cameron's girlfriend, the girlfriend's parents, and friends of the girlfriend's family had also purchased a substantial number of shares--well over half a million dollars worth, between them, not counting the congressman, who owned a lot more than that. Then, in June of 2017, the company learned that its drug had miserably failed the testing regimen: it had no therapeutic value. While attending a congressional picnic on the grounds of the White House, Collins received an email from the CEO spelling out the bad news. He replied to the email at 7:10 p.m.: "Wow. Makes no sense. How are these results even possible???" Within the next five minutes, he placed six calls from his cell phone to his son, Cameron. The first five were not picked up. The sixth was, and the conversation lasted six minutes, eight seconds. When trading opened the next morning, Cameron began selling off his stock. In the few days before the results of the failed test became public, so did the girlfriend, the girlfriend's parents, and the family friends. The company really had nothing going except this one drug, so when news of the failed test became public, its stock lost more than 90 percent of its value--went from about a half buck a share to less than a nickel a share. The representative's son, the son's girlfriend, and the girlfriend's family and family friends avoided losing, by their timely sell orders, upwards of three-quarters of a million dollars.
Collins gave a statement this evening in which he emphasized that he did not himself sell any stock. Of course he didn't. The charging documents explain the many reasons he couldn't. The one I like best is that he had already attracted the attention of ethics milksops who are suspicious of congressmen who sit on the boards of pharmaceutical companies while making laws that affect . . . pharmaceutical companies. He had too high a profile to unload his stock right before it collapsed.
The sense of entitlement that these people have exceeds by miles that of any brown-skinned immigrant or someone receiving supplemental assistance to buy groceries. I love the congressman's reaction to the bad news: "How is this even possible?" Some people, by the time they're 68, are not surprised by disappointment. Anyway, he starts placing calls with his own cell phone, and his family members begin selling their stock. He might as well have sent an email to the FBI telling them what he was up to. (I imagine that occasionally the FBI is confronted with criminals who use burner phones when discussing their crimes, and yet they figure it out.) It seems like maybe Collins &c failed to comprehend that they were performing blatantly criminal acts--things everyone knows are against the law. I attributed their actions to incompetence and stupidity but maybe the explanatory concept is something more like impunity. People like us can't be criminals, so let's help ourselves! Side details give off the same odor. Here is item 33 of the criminal complaint, concerning the girlfriend's text messaging when dollar signs were dancing before her eyes:
33. The year before, Cameron Collins's girlfriend's parents also invested in Innate after she told her mother by text message in August 2016: "I think we all need to consider investing in innate therapeutics. I might put in $15k and that has a greater than 50% chance of going up to $250k...…..that is actually unheard of and cams dad almost guarantees it within the next 1 to 2 years...." The next day she added, "And we'll always keep in touch with cams dad who I'm guessing would know how things are looking as we get closer to the end of the trial." A few days later, she told her mother, "I'll make sure cams dad keeps us in the loop."
He kept them in the loop.
In his statement today, Rep. Collins, who was the first member of Congress to endorse Trump for president, announced that the criminal charges would not deter him from seeking another term. Good god I hope he doesn't campaign on draining the swamp.