WASHINGTON (AP) – Democrats, including a local congresswoman, are jumping on a Republican congressman’s insider trading indictment to decry a culture of corruption they say President Donald Trump has fostered, a theme they hope will help them seize congressional control in November’s elections.
“The brazen corruption, cronyism and incompetence of the Trump Administration is reflected in the conduct of House Republicans,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California, said Thursday in a letter to her Democratic colleagues. She called the GOP-run Congress “a cesspool of self-enrichment, secret money and special interests,” and urged Democrats to use their August recess to emphasize that.
Pelosi’s statement came a day after Rep. Chris Collins, R-New York, was arrested and indicted on securities fraud charges involving his use of inside information about a troubled biotech company. Collins, a stalwart Trump defender and one of his earliest congressional supporters in the 2016 presidential race, has denied wrongdoing.
Hours earlier, a pair of junior Democrats struck the same note in a conference call with reporters.
“The fish rots from the head,” said Rep. John Sarbanes, D-Maryland. He said Trump is “the most ethically blind president we’ve ever seen.”
Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Illinois, said Trump, Collins and other Republicans have made the U.S. a country “of the rich, by the powerful and for the lobbyists.”
Collins’ relationship with Trump – and the indictment’s assertion that Collins was on White House grounds when he used insider stock information – proved irresistible to Sarbanes.
The Maryland lawmaker said there was “something poetic” that according to the indictment, Collins was attending the White House Congressional Picnic in June 2017 when he learned the company’s drug trials had failed and called his son – a fellow investor who also faces charges – to warn him about it.
“It’s almost as though he walked into an ethics-free zone when he got to the White House that day,” Sarbanes said.
Democrats want to taint the GOP with an aura of corruption and portray it as championing the wealthy elite as part of a campaign-season effort to offer themselves as the party of the people. Underscoring that contrast, Sarbanes and Bustos said Democrats were promising legislation aimed at protecting voters from Republican efforts to making registering and voting harder and beefing up ethics laws covering campaign contributions and financial disclosure by office holders.
Democrats would retake House control if they gain 23 seats in November, which many analysts see as an achievable goal. Their chances of gaining a Senate majority are viewed as smaller.
Attacking Republicans over ethics won’t be Democrats’ main line of campaign attacks. Trump himself motivates hordes of Democratic voters, as was demonstrated in this week’s still-undecided special election in an Ohio congressional district that has been safely in GOP hands for decades.
In addition, Democrats view protecting people’s health care and defending the right to abortion as appealing arguments in many of the swing suburban districts that will help determine congressional control. Those issues are likely to be brought into sharper focus with the Senate’s upcoming battle over Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court.
Democrats will not have a clear field on the issue of ethics.
Sen. Bob Menendez, D-New Jersey, is facing a harder than expected re-election race this year after the Senate Ethics Committee rebuked him for accepting gifts and using his position to advance the donor’s business interests. A criminal case against him was dismissed last year.
Former Sen. Al Franken, D-Minnesota, and longtime Rep. John Conyers, D-Michigan, were among several members of both parties who’ve resigned after charges of sexual harassment.
As recent examples of Trump ethical issues, Bustos cited the ongoing financial fraud trial of Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman, and questions about the timing of stock sales by Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.
REMARKS BY U.S. REP. CHERI BUSTOS IN THURSDAY'S CONFERENCE CALL
I want to let you know that we have Congressman John Sarbanes from the State of Maryland on with me.
I’m Congresswoman Cheri Bustos and I come from Illinois, specifically the 17th Congressional District.
Just a little background, my district is largely rural, it’s along the Mississippi River and Donald Trump won this congressional district that I serve in just back in 2016.
And it’s here also, where I’m sitting right now. Just a few blocks away from me is the Mississippi River, this is where I worked as a newspaper reporter for nearly 2 decades.
So I was thinking about this last night, knowing we were going to have this call this morning.
I was imagining all of the conversations that were going on among editors and reporters all across the country and how they were planning what the headlines would be today. ...
Here’s what was going through my mind. They were probably asking themselves, “Should we lead with the story about President Trump’s campaign manager, who’s on trial for illegally laundering millions of dollars from a corrupt Ukrainian regime?
"Or maybe we should run with President Trump’s commerce secretary who's being accused of stealing $120 million from his business partners.
"Nah, let’s go with a headline about Donald Trump’s biggest cheerleader in the U.S. House of Representatives, Congressman Chris Collins, who was just arrested for insider trading.”
What’s sad about all of this is this is actually where we are today.
And the biggest tragedy is that back here at home where I’m sitting right now and all across the country, we have millions of men and women who are working hard every single day. And what they’re doing, they’re bracing right now for their health care costs to go through the roof. We’re going to see this happen just in the next several weeks when the new rates come out.
I’ll tell you, there’s too many people in my part of the country at least who are still working two jobs just so they can get by.
I’ll give you a couple other examples.
The corn and the soybean farmers along with our pork producers from congressional districts like mine, they’re seeing President Trump’s tariffs blow a hole in their family income, and this is happening right before harvest.
I’m heading out as part of my 21st century heartland tour later today and we’ll be visiting farms.
This latest news about Congressman Chris Collins, I don’t know if it’s a surprise to many people. Some might say ehh, it’s just another corruption case in Washington, but this has got to be a wakeup call to ALL Americans.
When Washington Republicans passed their tax scam, Congressman Chris Collins did something that doesn’t happen enough in Congress – That was, he told the truth.
And here’s what I mean by that.
He told reporters, right about that time, and this was a direct quote – “My donors are basically saying, 'Get it done or don't ever call me again.'”
Again, his quote was, “My donors are basically saying, 'Get it done or don't ever call me again.'”
That’s what his billionaire donors were telling him so he would usher in this new era of trillion-dollar deficits just so they could have windfall tax breaks.
These are billionaire tax breaks that we just learned have increased the federal deficit by 20 percent in the last year.
These are billionaire tax breaks that put Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid on the chopping block.
And they are billionaire tax breaks that put big special interests ahead of the people.
That’s why we, as Democrats in Congress, are saying this is enough.
We think it’s time to make Washington work for the people once again.
And it was just before summer began that we introduced a set of proposals that we call “a Better Deal for our Democracy.”
It’s a straightforward package of proposals that John Sarbanes will get into in just a little, but the idea is that it will restore the ethics in Washington that Americans should expect from their public servants.
We all remember President Trump for the couple of years that he was on the campaign trail promising that he’d so-called drain the swamp. ...
But, what have we seen? We’ve seen that he built a hotel on it and has pocketed over $40 million, and that’s just since he’s been in office.
We’re looking at him being in office as president for fewer than 2 years now.
It took Congressman Chris Collins all of 5 1/2 years to get indicted, arrested and betray the public trust.
I know that people I talk with in the grocery store aisles, they’re tired of all of this going on, they’re tired of Washington Republicans like President Trump and Congressman Chris Collins turning America into a nation that appears to be of the rich, by the powerful and for the lobbyists.
It’s why we, as Democrats, pledge to the American public that, should they choose to put their faith back in us, our fight is for them.
It is for the people.
With that, I’d like to turn it over to our primary architect of a Better Deal for our Democracy to talk about some of the details in our plan.
My good friend and the chair of the Democracy Reform Task Force, Congressman John Sarbanes.