Republican Party leaders who worry about losing their congressional majority in November’s midterm elections, and seeing Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) return as Speaker of the House, could still theoretically replace troubled Rep. Chris Collins (R-NY), according to an election law expert.
If so, they will have to act before mid-September — or risk a “safe” seat they cannot afford to lose.
Collins refused Wednesday evening to drop out of his race for re-election in New York’s 27th congressional district, even though he had been arrested earlier in the day on a federal indictment for insider trading.
“I will remain on the ballot running for reelection this November,” he told reporters.
The truth is that Collins may not have had much of a choice: the deadline for him to decline the nomination passed on July 20, and the deadline for the resulting vacancy to be filled with another GOP nominee passed on July 24.
That raises the question of whether federal prosecutors knew they were placing Republicans in a bind by waiting until the first full week of August to charge Collins.
Though Collins is from western New York, the prosecution is being run by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Southern District of New York (SDNY) office — the same office that is investigating President Donald Trump’s former attorney, Michael Cohen, and which was formerly headed by Preet Bharara, whom the president fired last year, and who has since emerged as a persistent Trump critic.
Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is supposedly investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election and wants to interview the president, has handed off some of the ancillary investigations to colleagues at the SDNY.
SDNY spokesman Nicholas Biase told Breitbart News on Thursday morning that prosecutors had simply been ready to bring the case, and that the timing of the grand jury indictment had been sheer coincidence, with no consideration of the political calendar.
He pointed to the remarks Wednesday of U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman: “Politics does not enter into our decision-making on charging a case, we bring a case when it is ready; while we are cognizant of the prudential concerns surrounding an election, we are months away from an election, and those concerns do not apply.”
However, the tensions between Trump and Mueller, and the Department of Justice’s troubling track record in political cases — most notably, the faulty prosecution of late Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK), who lost his re-election race in 2008 as a result — have prompted suspicion among some critics of the department.
Regardless, there may still be one way for the Republican Party to replace Collins on the ballot — and save a seat that is suddenly competitive, shifting from “Safe Republican” to “Likely Republican” on Wednesday, according to the Cook Political Report.
Larry Levy of the Republican National Lawyers Association told Breitbart News on Thursday the party could replace Collins if he were nominated for a “superseding” county office. The deadline for doing so, according to the state board of elections, is Sep. 20.
Once the GOP did that, Levy notes, Collins might still be on the ballot as the nominee of both the Conservative and Independence parties — in much the same way that Rep. Joe Crowley (D-NY) will remain on the ballot in New York’s 14th district as the nominee of the Working Families Party, even though he was defeated by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in the Democratic primary. But they, too, could remove him from their party’s “lines” if they also nominated him for local office and found another congressional candidate.
Alternatively, Republicans could run a write-in candidate — though as the case of Dede Scozzafava showed in 2009, there could be enough confused voters who would still vote for Collins even if he dropped out, simply because his name would be on the ballot.
For now, the Republican Party of New York is sticking with Collins. Chairman Ed Cox provided a statement to Breitbart News, via a spokesperson: “We are, of course, disappointed with the news [of his arrest]. Clearly, this has been an ongoing investigation for some time, yet we still have more to learn about the facts. No one is above the law, but Chris deserves his day in court and we will wait to see what unfolds.”
However, if the Republican majority in the U.S. House looks vulnerable, party leaders could step in to persuade Collins to bow out, and find a suitable alternative candidate in his place. They have about six weeks left in which to act.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. He is also the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, which is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.
This article has been updated to include a quote from U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman.