According to a bombshell report, Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.) was caught bragging about how much money he’s made for other GOP members of Congress by tipping them off to an Australia-based pharmaceutical company in which he is the largest stockholder. The revelation was made public by two GOP lawmakers who were present for the conversation, according to The Hill.
Collins, President Trump’s chief defender and unofficial spokesman on Capitol Hill, is a member of the influential Energy and Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over health issues. Specifically, he serves on the panel’s Health and Oversight and Investigations subcommittees.
The N.Y. Republican was heard boasting about urging a group of House GOP colleagues over dinner to invest in Innate Immunotherapeutics and made them plenty of money in the process, the The Hill reports.
“He said that he’s made members money,” the GOP lawmaker told The Hill.
“Members of Congress?” a reporter asked.
“Yeah, on his stock tip,” the lawmaker replied.
“If you get in early, you’ll make a big profit,” Collins reportedly told another group of House Republicans last summer, according to a second GOP lawmaker who was part of the same 2012 class as Collins.
In January, Collins raised eyebrows after reporters overheard him bragging about “how many millionaires I’ve made in Buffalo the past few months.”
Now the focus is shifting to Collins’s conversations with colleagues on Capitol Hill.
House ethics investigators last month began probing Collins for his role in recruiting investors to buy stock in the Australian firm after several complaints were filed alleging insider trading.
The Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge (STOCK) Act, passed by Congress in 2012, explicitly bars members of Congress from trading stocks using insider information.
Earlier this year, The Wall Street Journal reported that Trump’s pick for Health and Human Services secretary, then-Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), had received a personal invitation from Collins last summer to buy between $50,000 and $100,000 of Innate stock at a discounted rate.
Collins’s chief of staff, Michael Hook, and former Rep. Bill Paxon (R-N.Y.), now a lobbyist, also bought Innate stock at the discounted 18 cents-per-share rate.
Price, who was confirmed by the Senate on Feb. 10, said during his confirmation hearing that his stock purchase wasn’t a “sweetheart deal.” But the Journal found that Price was one of fewer than 20 U.S. investors who were able to purchase the Innate stock at the discounted price.
Five other Republican lawmakers — Reps. Mike Conaway and John Culberson, both of Texas, Doug Lamborn (Colo.), Billy Long (Mo.) and Markwayne Mullin (Okla.) — have also purchased shares of Innate this year. But most have said they discovered the stock through media reports and denied they received a stock tip from Collins.
Several other GOP lawmakers bought Innate stock after Jan. 24, the day Price’s stock purchases came under intense scrutiny during his Senate confirmation hearing.
Both Culberson and Conaway, the House Agriculture Committee chairman, bought between $1,000 and $15,000 of Innate shares on the same day, Jan. 26. Conaway bought more stock on Feb. 3.
Other lawmakers interviewed by The Hill said they have heard Collins talking up Innate Immunotherapeutics at official meetings and in informal settings in Congress.
One lawmaker said that Collins personally pitched him on buying Innate stock, though the lawmaker didn’t take his advice.
Collins — whose net worth is as much as $66 million, according to OpenSecrets.org, became the first member of Congress to publicly endorse Trump in the GOP primaries, and he quickly became a top campaign surrogate on cable TV. Just days after Trump’s election, Collins declared to reporters in the Capitol that he had been designated as the Trump transition team’s liaison to Congress.
Ethics experts say Collins’s incessant chatter about Innate Immunotherapeutics has blurred the line between the people’s business and the congressman’s private business interests.
With the White House besieged by multiple probes into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, Collins has remained a loyal and steadfast defender of the president and his administration.
Collins declined to comment on whether he or his chief of staff had been interviewed by ethics investigators. But he dismissed the investigation as a “witch-hunt” launched by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and other Democrats.
He argued that the reporters who overheard him bragging about the “millionaires” he’s made in Buffalo took him out of context. Collins said he was having a “private conversation” with a friend and investor from Buffalo, even though Collins took the call in the Speaker’s lobby.