The House ethics committee is investigating New York Rep. Chris Collins, the first Republican on Capitol Hill to endorse Donald Trump's presidential campaign, for potentially violating federal law and House rules regarding insider trading.
The outside, non-partisan Office of Congressional Ethics began a review of Collins' activity in March and voted to send its findings to the House ethics panel in July, which can formally launch investigations and recommend any sanctions against any lawmaker it determines has broken any rules. The ethics committee announced in the release of the report that it would start a review of Collins.
The report details how Collins met with officials at the National Institutes of Health to discuss the development of a drug made by Innate, a company whose board he served on.
According to the report by OCE, released Thursday by the Ethics committee, "There is a substantial reason to believe that Representative Collins shared material nonpublic information in the purchase of Innate stock, in violation of House rules, standards of conduct, and federal law."
Collins released the following statement in response to the report: "Throughout my tenure in Congress I have followed all rules and ethical guidelines when it comes to my personal investments. I was elected to Congress based upon my success in the private sector, and my willingness to use that experience every day to facilitate an environment that creates economic opportunity and jobs. I thank the House Ethics Committee for their meticulous review of this case and for the tough work they do to hold all Members of Congress accountable to the highest standards of conduct."
OCE recommended to the ethics panel that the NIH meeting raised questions because Collins "took official actions or requested official actions that would assist a single entity in which he had a significant financial interest."
In a joint statement, House Ethics Chair Susan Brooks, an Indiana Republican, and the top Democrat, Rep. Ted Deutch, said, "The committee notes that the mere fact of conducting further review of a referral, and any mandatory disclosure of such further review does not itself indicate that any violation has occurred, or reflect any judgment on behalf of the committee."
The report conducted by OCE includes emails from Collins that he sent to shareholders with information that the ethics watchdog says could have been important to investors about whether or not they should buy Innate stock.
The emails discuss details of patients enrolled in trials of an Innate drug that was developed and also discusses plans for a "private placement offering" of stock.
Collins, who cooperated with the probe, maintained that the information was available through public information, but OCE retained an expert to determine what information was available and what it deemed "nonpublic."
Previous media reports raised questions about Collins' role in Innate and in sharing information about the company with other lawmakers. But the OCE report released Thursday details an instance when the New York congressman raised specific issue about an Innate drug at a public hearing before the House science committee where a witness from the National Institutes of Neurological Disorders and Stroke was testifying in 2013.
Collins did not disclose his connection to Innate, but after his exchange with the witness he was invited to the NIH to meet with other government researchers to hear about their work. Soon after the hearing his office reached out to the NIH and set up a visit. Prior to his visit, an aide to Collins notified the organizer of the meeting that he was involved with Innate, a company that was working on a drug to treat multiple sclerosis. Collins told OCE that the visit was a "high school field trip" and compared it to going to "the Smithsonian" and that he was there as a private citizen, not as a member of Congress.
One NIH employee interviewed by OCE about that visit in 2013 said that Collins told them that Innate needed help with a Phase 2 drug trial and asked them to help, and she agreed. The employee also said that Collins left a coin with a congressional stamp on it and asked her for her business card.