New York Republican Rep. Chris Collins suspended his reelection campaign on Saturday after he was indicted earlier this week on charges related to insider trading.
"After extensive discussions with my family and 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 Trump's agenda for me to suspend my campaign for re-election to Congress," Collins said in a statement. His announcement reverses a comment he made last Wednesday insisting that he would "remain on the ballot running for re-election this November" despite the charges.
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Collins' move sets up a scramble by Republicans to overcome New York's complicated election laws to remove him from the ballot and replace him with another candidate before November's midterm elections. That outcome will likely impact the ability of Democrats to flip the seat, which had previously been the most heavily Republican district in New York but now could be competitive.
Federal prosecutors on Wednesday charged Collins, his son and another man with 13 counts of securities fraud, wire fraud and false statements stemming from an alleged insider trading scheme centered on an Australian pharmaceutical company. He could face up to 150 years in prison if convicted on all counts, according to Nick Biase, a spokesman for the US Attorney's Office of the Southern District of New York.
Collins has maintained that he is not guilty of the charges, saying in his statement on Saturday that he would "continue to fight the meritless charges brought against me and I look toward to having my good name cleared of any wrongdoing."
Although Collins is now suspending his campaign, it's too late for him to withdraw from the ballot, according to the New York Board of Elections. The nominee would have to die, accept a nomination to a different office or be disqualified, board spokesman John Conklin said.
"In the unlikely event that he's convicted of something prior to Election Day, that still wouldn't get him off the ballot," Conklin told CNN. "State law doesn't apply to federal offices, meaning you can have a conviction on your record and still run."
Conklin also said the process to replace Collins' name on the ballot, should it be removed, would involve a meeting of the party leaders within the district who would select a substitution based on a weighted vote by county.
A GOP operative told CNN on Saturday that officials are considering nominating Collins for a town clerkship that will allow him to vacate the ballot.
Collins' decision not to actively campaign could give his opponent, Democrat Nate McMurray, an opportunity to pick up the heavily Republican western New York district, which stretches between the suburbs of Buffalo and Rochester.
Erie County Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw said Saturday that he'll be pursuing the Republican nomination for the congressional seat. The Republican won countywide election despite Erie's heavy Democratic constituency.
Carl Paladino, a Trump ally and former New York Republican gubernatorial candidate who came under fire in 2016 for making racist comments about then-first lady Michelle Obama, appeared to announce on Saturday that he will also enter the race.
President Donald Trump won the district by 24 percentage points in 2016. A pick-up there would boost Democrats' hopes of winning a net gain of 23 seats and taking control of the House in this year's midterms.
Collins also said Saturday that he's not immediately stepping down and will "fill out the remaining few months of my term."
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi on Saturday said House Speaker Paul Ryan should call for Collins' resignation from Congress.
"Speaker Ryan must call on Congressman Collins to resign. No person is above the law, not the President or his first supporter in Congress," Pelosi said in a statement.
McMurray told CNN on Saturday afternoon that he supports Pelosi's call for Collins to resign.
"He should step down immediately," McMurray said. "I'm not sure what he's trying to do, whether extend his pension or something else, but this has to end. Suspending his campaign is one thing, but he has to resign."
Earlier Saturday, McMurray said he believes Collins faced pressure to stop the re-election campaign.
"I think he had a lot of pressure on him, and I like to think that some part of him knew it was the right thing to do," McMurray said.
National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Steve Stivers said in a statement that he respects Collins' decision to step down.
"As I've said before, Congress must hold ourselves to the highest possible standards," he added.
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