They manufacture a crisis because as much as they wish, there is none

At Christmas the government dropped 1,000 migrants at a bus shelter. They did it on purpose.

You might remember, a few weeks back before they started going on TV to lie about terrorists being arrested at the border and all of a sudden saying it was time for an Alamo-like last stand on the Wall, before The News took over our lives more than it already has for the last two years and Trump bullied his way into getting eight minutes of prime time TV time to tell us things he’s already said over and over again, before he started shouting those same things in the Oval Office while adult men and women with some of the most important jobs in the world snickered as he mocked a reporter for asking why he shut down the government, before he yelled equally petulant defenses of his shutdown on the White House lawn while a helicopter waited to take him places so he could Do Things, and before he sat at a table in Texas behind a big gun and piles of cash and drugs found at the border in an attempt to prove his point — before all of that, you might remember a three-day period at Christmas when the government suddenly and inexplicably dropped off more than 1,000 migrants at a bus station in El Paso.

They did that on purpose, I can report to you now. They did that to scare people and convince them that the crisis at the border they say exists actually does (it doesn’t). They did that because they can and because they don’t give a shit about the consequences, because none of what they do is actually done with human rights in mind.

For the past week I was in El Paso trying to figure out why those people — the people who work for ICE who dropped the migrants off for no good reason — did what they did. Since the government is shut down the people who answer questions on behalf of ICE won’t respond to an email I can’t get an answer to that question. But even if they were at their desks tomorrow morning they would never admit to following orders from Washington D.C. — from Trump, we can assume — that resulted in them dumping more than 1,000 migrants at a bus station in the hope that someone would take a picture of it and that picture would look bad to some people, that it would look like a crisis.

They would never admit to that because it would prove there is no crisis but the one they created. But that’s the logistical reason they won’t admit that they purposely manufactured a crisis. The fundamental reason they won’t admit that or even answer questions about it is that they are cowards.

***

It’s cold and raining in Juarez when I put my friend into a taxi late Wednesday night. I am full of Tecate and chucho. He has had his fill of Jack Daniels on the rocks. I tell him I’ll see him next month when I’m back and we can resume our ongoing conversation of whether Mexico’s president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador — AMLO — is making Mexico more like America or whether Trump is making America more like Mexico. You can have this conversation all day. On the bridge back to El Paso, there are four orange cones marking the invisible line between Mexico and the United States.

“Papers or passport?” the border guard asks.

I show him my Illinois drivers license that says I live in an apartment that I haven’t lived in for four years in a city that I haven’t lived in for two years. I left my passport back in Dallas, the one thing I forgot this trip.

“OK, go ahead.”

Past him is the next obstacle, an airport-style checkpoint in a building that is completely empty except for the two guards standing behind computers they always make sure to tell you to stand the fuck behind.

“What were you doing in Mexico?”

“I’m a journalist.”

“And where do you live?”

“Dallas, now.”

“And what’s in the bag?”

“My computer. A notebook.”

“OK, have a good night.”

No one is manning the X-ray machine that you’re supposed to put your bag through so I walk past it and into El Paso, where the only thing waiting for me are empty streets and an empty hotel room and things I cannot stop thinking about.

***

These empty streets are where the migrants would have ended up if it weren’t for the people at Annunciation House. Since 2014 the government has called Annunciation House whenever it has migrants that they’re going to release. Then Annunciation House finds a place in a church or someone’s home or another of their shelters for the migrants to stay. That’s how it’s always worked. Until October 26.

That day, ICE dropped a couple hundred migrants at the bus station without telling anyone ahead of time. This was before Trump and a bunch of Republicans were trying to scare people into believing we need the Wall with what Aaron Rupar calls “gore porn” about human trafficking and cartels putting tape over womens’ mouths, which is something that Trump keeps weirdly bringing up. Back in late October Trump and his Republican sycophants were busy trying to scare the hell out of people about a couple caravans of migrants who were 1,000 miles away and practically in another fucking hemisphere.

They made up lies about middle-easterners (bad, obviously) and criminals being in the caravan. Fortunate son Matt Gaetz floated a rumor that George Soros was funding the caravan (super bad, it goes without saying). They sent troops to the border who mainly spent most of their time building the camps they slept in before they took down those camps. The troops put up some barbed wire that Trump said was shiny and beautiful. Their field trip to the border probably cost us millions or tens of millions of dollars. By the time the caravans got here they were mostly broken up and ended up in Tijuana, another 1,000 miles from the poor grunts in the Rio Grande Valley sitting around twiddling their thumbs.

They did all that because there was an election coming and Trump figured it’d be a good idea to scare people so they’d vote for Republicans, who he doesn’t really care about but if they won it would look like he won in a way. So they figured they’d drop a bunch of migrants off at the bus station in El Paso on October 26, a couple weeks before that election. The migrants would be wearing the same clothes they made the journey from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras in. They’d look a little disheveled, probably, and definitely brown.

They’d look different from people like Trump, and people who look like Trump and vote for him tend to really not like people who don’t look like Trump, and themselves.

“They 100 percent did that on purpose to try to manufacture a crisis,” Iliana Holguin, an El Paso immigration attorney told me, laughing that I’d even have to ask a question with such an obvious answer when I know what I know and talk to people like her all the time.

“This is all just a show for them. It’s all to try to scare people and demean migrants.”

They did it again on December 23, 25 and 25, dropping off more than 1,000 migrants in those three days. Why late December? Because it was right before Trump said he’d shut down the government if he didn’t get his racist Ozymandias. That was a good time to manufacture a crisis because a crisis is what Trump and other lying politicians are telling Americans is happening at the border. And only a wall can fix that crisis, they say.

“They did that on purpose,” another El Paso immigration attorney, Carlos Spector, says. “They did that to make it look there is a crisis here when there isn’t.”

***

On Carlos’ desk are two statues. One is of Lady Justice with the blindfold over her eyes. She’s supposed to be blind and it’s not supposed to matter who you are, what you do, what color you are or how much money you have — she’s supposed to treat you the same (she doesn’t). The other statue is of Benito Juarez, the poor, indigenous guy from Oaxaca who stood up for other poor, indigenous people from Oaxaca and elsewhere in Mexico and became president. When the French invaded Mexico, Benito had to leave Mexico City and run the country from a town called Paso del Norte. In that town the building he ran Mexico from is abandoned and crumbling. That town is called Juarez now.

Whatever happens tonight, migrants are coming

Trump will likely make the case for his ridiculous border wall, but there are a few other options

It feels like Election Night all over again. One, I’m back in El Paso, where I gorged on the hope and anxiety of Beto supporters for about 36 hours before watching him concede fairly early in the night. Two, the preparation pattern I’m engaging in is the same as that night, when reporters must be ready for several different outcomes, but can’t afford to bet too heavily on a single one of them.

So you wait and read, looking for any clues of what might happen. You tap sources on the shoulder and remind them that you’ll need reaction in the moments after the events occur.

Maybe tonight is a little easier, because we don’t have to wait for poll results to come in and there is an H-Hour for this news event: 9 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, when Trump will have his way and get eight uninterrupted minutes to (apparently) make his case for a border wall.

Maybe tonight is a little easier, too, because we’re basically all prepared for a scenario in which Trump will mislead the American public with facts and figures of highly questionable accuracy — lies, basically. (In addition, he’ll look seriously into the camera in a desperate attempt to convince us he Understands These Things, all while probably having that weird dry mouth thing happen that seems to occur any time he has to speak from a teleprompter.)

But in addition to simply making his case for what Charles Pierce calls his very “big, stupid wall,” there are a few other things Trump can announce tonight. All are not very likely. But all are on the table. To wit:

Suspend Flores

One of the things that has clearly irked Trump — and DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, who I’ll get to in a second — is the fact that you just can’t keep every undocumented immigrant locked up indefinitely until they’re either granted some form of release or deported. The Flores settlement is a Supreme Court case stipulating parents detained with their children can not be held for more than 20 days. A migrant advocate here in El Paso told me she’s concerned that Trump will in some way try to suspend Flores, which Nielsen described as a “loophole” when asked about the Supreme Court decision in a congressional hearing around Christmas.

Most of the migrants who were dropped at the bus station in El Paso fit into this category: they were released primarily because they had kids with them. Suspending or ignoring Flores would keep those people locked up — and massively expand the number of migrants in detention thanks to the surge in family migration we’re currently experiencing.  Lest you think the government can’t possibly hold that many people, keep in mind that ICE put out a request for information over the summer for the construction of a facility or facilities to hold 12,000 people on a military base somewhere along the border.

Suspend bond (highly unlikely)

Since at least late October, a decision whether to suspend bond for migrants in US custody has been pending at the office of the Attorney General, now headed by fake University of Iowa football all-American and cabinet meeting kiss-ass Matt Whitaker. Any given day, Whitaker can announce that the Department of Justice will not allow immigration agencies to offer bond to asylum-seekers.

Elizabeth Simpson of the National Lawyers Guild’s National Immigration Project wrote the complaint that the group filed with DOJ’s Executive Office for Immigration Review. We spoke just before Jeff Sessions was fired. Following Whitaker’s psuedo-appointment as acting AG, she told me she didn’t know what to expect from him. But she said a decision to suspend bond would “make it harder for asylum-seekers to be released, even after they passed a credible fear interview.” Migrants, she said, would be “more likely to give up on their cases and accept deportation back to the dangerous conditions from which they fled.”

It’s highly unlikely that Trump would bring up this relatively obscure matter, which is still being decided within the AG’s office. In November, a DOJ spokesperson told me the decision was still pending but wouldn’t provide any update.

So, we wait.

Formerly launch ‘Remain in Mexico’

In the same hearing at which she called Flores a “loophole,” Nielsen was able to avoid answering questions about a controversial — and seemingly impossible — plan that DHS announced just moments after the hearing began.

Called Remain in Mexico, the plan calls for all asylum-seekers who have passed a credible fear interview to … remain in Mexico until they are either granted or denied asylum. (No one ever accused anyone in the Trump administration of being terribly clever at naming things.)

Those asylum cases can take months and in some cases years to process. Numbers of asylum claims from last year give us an idea what implementation of the plan would look like.

In fiscal year 2018, more than 54,000 of the 396,570 migrants arrested for crossing illegally made at least an attempt to claim asylum. And that’s only those who didn’t claim asylum legally at a port of entry. In the 12-month period of fiscal year 2018, if those numbers maintain don’t increase, as Mexico’s interior minister suggested yesterday, we know that Mexico would have to take in more than 54,000 migrants under Remain in Mexico.

It’s safe to say that Mexico is not prepared for that. Yesterday, Juarez’s mayor told me the city has a maximum capacity of a little more than 7,000 migrants. Accommodating that number of migrants would require the city to convert public gymnasiums into shelters and staff them with city employees. Eventually, this would cause the city to “collapse,” Juarez’s director of human rights told me.

Currently, there are only about 200 migrants in all of Juarez.

***

Trump probably doesn’t understand any of this. I’m sure he’s only vaguely aware of Flores and likely has no idea about the pending decision to suspend bond, let alone its complexities. He surely knows nothing about the capacity of Mexican border cities like Juarez to handle the immediate influx of thousands of migrants that would occur if Remain in Mexico were implemented.

He is a simple person who believes there is a simple solution to one of the most complex migration issues in the world: a wall. That’s probably what he’ll try to hammer home tonight. All of the above will probably come down to the courts to decide.

P.S. My story with Zach’s photos went live at VICE this morning. Yesterday I spoke with migrants in Juarez for The Daily Beast. Regardless of what Trump says tonight or what policies are implemented, they are coming.

It can happen here, and it already is

Sinclair Lewis wrote in 1935 that fascism could come to America. El Paso in June shows it's here.

June, El Paso


I woke to the sound of a Japanese motorcycle ripping it west on I-10. I’d listened to the traffic in my sleep all night. Now whoever was surging toward 10,000 RPM served as my alarm clock. WHEEEERRRRRRRNNNNNNnnnnnnn… It faded into the distance.

I couldn’t remember what day it was. I always have a hard time telling on these trips. Being a reporter is such a peculiar occupation, because unlike most jobs you’re not tethered at all to the Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. world that nearly everyone else is, the thing that keeps us more or less on the same clock. You work when there is work to do and leads to chase and you stop when you can simply no longer stay awake. At least that’s how it works on breaking news trips like this one to El Paso, where I’ve spent a week trying to make sense of the chaos and pain being caused by yet another policy coming out of the White House. This time, the president and his anti-immigrant allies have decided to separate migrant mothers and fathers from their children, regardless of their reasons for coming here, which include extreme violence, poverty and government corruption back home.

It was a sinister plan that was surely an attempt to deter people from coming here — although no one in the president’s inner circle or the Trump himself have the spine to come out and say it. (Attorney General Jeff Sessions briefly hinted at family separations-as-deterrence in announcing the plan; White House Chief of Staff John Kelly said as much in an interview prior to the implementation of the policy, called zero tolerance.) As it stood that morning in El Paso, the policy was just another fine example of the fact that compassion and decency left the Republican party fo good when its members chose as their leader a man who denigrated a goddamn war hero early in his campaign in Iowa. I was there that day as the farmers laughed and cheered when Donald Trump made fun of John McCain for being captured while fighting in Vietnam.

Few were laughing in El Paso.

At The Tap, a Formica dive in the city’s sleepy downtown that served as my desk on a scalding day in June, I sat hunched over my computer for hours as news broke that Trump would sign an executive order to “end” family separations. Like the implementation of the policy itself, the order was haphazard and not fully thought-out, a reaction to a week’s worth of bad press and images of children being walked into hastily-constructed facilities where they’d be held. Child prisoners. I took down the scene as I wrote. Our story about the Trump administration having no plan and doing little to prepare for zero tolerance — including not informing US attorneys offices, the US Marshals and federal public defenders that their arrests and caseloads would soon skyrocket thanks to the new policy — quickly morphed into a piece explaining how the executive order will do nothing for the more than 2,000 children already separated from their parents.

Outside the bar, a road-worn kid in his late 20s who looked like he was 40 asks if I have any change on my way in. “Maybe a million bucks’ worth?” Ha ha.

Inside, two old drunks are at the end of the bar. The first few notes of The Low Spark of the High-Heeled Boys comes through the speaker: Bass first, piano second, then the snare. The phone rings. “If that’s my wife, I’m not here,” one of the drunks says.

Then the Dead doing Fire on the Mountain live somewhere in the 70s. The old boys are jamming now — Green Grass and High Tides, That Smell — and talking in that frank and honest way that’s most potent when elbows are cradled by the worn wood or cheap plastic of a boozy sanctuary.

“I am very frustrated with what’s going on in the world today,” the guy on the right says. “I never paid that much attention to government, except now they’re doing bullshit.”

The man on the left, I find, is originally from New Haven, Connecticut. The guy on the right is the Dead fan. Both of them have silver straw hair pulled back into ponytails. New Haven has a rich smoker’s cough that rumbles from deep inside of him every time he lights up. His companion has a kind and mischievous smile and for some reason can’t get the doctor to give him Viagra anymore. He taught political science at some point. They begin talking about Trump with a young Mexican guy who has been mooching beers of them and tells me he’s a felon.

“I think he’s the most hated person on the planet,” New Haven says of the president. “And I think it’s getting to him. You look at him and… I think he regrets taking this job. I don’t think he wants to do any of this anymore.”

“Guy’s never worked a day in his life,” Dead says. “He got his start because his dad loaned him millions of dollars. All that stuff he did in real estate, that was because of his dad. He was born with a silver spoon but he’s trailer park trash. He’s a dumb, rich redneck”

By the time I leave, they’re beginning to fade, doing the old “Awww hell why not, one more!” thing. Drinks they won’t finish. New Haven’s head drops to his chest. “He’s taking his afternoon siesta,” Dead says to the Mexican felon.

When I tell them goodbye, they respond in unison, Take care.

That day began on the Santa Fe bridge at 8 a.m. — Paso del Norte. At the border line, I spotted the gathering I’d expected since the night before, when I was told that my plan to have some quiet time with a family of asylum-seekers that morning would be shattered because word had gotten out, and the TV people would be there.

“Sorry man, it’s probably gonna be a camera shitshow,” my source texted me.

But I went anyway because it was important work: since my arrival in El Paso I’d been hearing about asylum-seekers being denied the opportunity to apply for asylum at the two bridges spanning the border, the only legal ways in to the United States from Juarez. How can that be? Doesn’t asylum mean… asylum? It can be and it is because, the border agents kept telling desperate migrants, “there is no room.”

“We’re not turning people away or telling them they can’t apply for asylum. We’re telling them to come back later!”

This was screamed at me by a completely exasperated spokesperson for the Department of Homeland Security when I asked her how it’s possible people trying to legally enter the country and apply for asylum could be denied the opportunity to do so. Her breathless lie came just a few hours after an infamous press conference that White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders apparently didn’t even want to be a part of in which DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen torpedoed whatever was left of her career in moderate politics and public service by blaming the media for exposing the awfulness of family separations. In the seats in front of her: the White House press corps, armed to the teeth with horror stories about mothers having their babies being ripped out of their arms, audio of children crying out for their parents inside the facilities the administration insisted weren’t that bad—and that noted awful human being Laura Ingraham called “like summer camp”— and a general sense of controlled anger and disbelief at what they and the rest of the country were witnessing.

It was a fucking bloodbath. By the time the slaughter had ended, Nielsen walked off the dais with a look on her face that showed not only deep frustration over what she’d just been put through, but disgust in herself for towing the line of an administration that she may have, in that moment, lost any remaining respect for.[1]

Donate to Annunciation House

The El Paso non-profit is doing the difficult work of finding shelter for increasingly large groups of migrants.

It’s the giving time of year, and at the moment the cause of Annunciation House is among the most worthy in the nation. The El Paso non-profit is responsible year-round for finding shelter for migrants released into the city by ICE. In the last four days, ICE has dropped about 1,300 migrants off at a bus station in the city’s downtown—an unexplained and unannounced spike that has sent Annunciation House scrambling.

The practice has prompted outcry from migrant advocates in the area, as well as from outgoing Rep. Beto O’Rourke and other politicians across the country. In recent days ICE has at least said they’ll tell Annunciation House and other aid groups before dropping off migrants.

At the top of the list of needs for A-House are financial donations. Those funds go toward finding motel rooms for migrants—the recent influx of unexpected releases has exhausted A-House’s network of foster homes—as well as food, gas for A-House’s vehicles and prescriptions for migrants. You can donate here.

The organization is not accepting used clothes, but is accepting new clothes, especially undergarments for men, women and children. If you’re in the El Paso area, A-House also needs volunteers to prepare and deliver meals to migrants in foster homes and motels across the city, as well as volunteers to help transport migrants to the bus station and the airport. Those interested in volunteering can reach A-House at refugees@annunciationhouse.org.

The director of A-House, Ruben Garcia, has been an El Paso fixture for decades. He has been instrumental in helping reporters understand the issues of migration—and more so in providing details of the challenges migrants have faced along the way and after they’ve reached the United States, where they’re often placed in detention.

For many years now, Garcia has been the go-to person for ICE and other agencies to reach out to when they release migrants. Some days it’s a dozen or so, other days more than 50, oftentimes more than 100. Garcia and his staff at A-House work their network of foster homes and churches to find beds for the migrants. Many of those places also provide meals, clean clothing and other resources for migrants to reach family elsewhere in the United States.

It’s the unsung work that in another country would prompt A-House to be referred to as a refugee aid NGO. But we don’t say that here, because other than a few unnamed DHS officials who have called the surge in family migration a “humanitarian crisis,” many Americans don’t recognize it as such.

The events of recent weeks have called attention to this crisis. The deaths of Jakelin Caal and Felipe Alonzo-Gomez have rightly brought immigration and mass detention of migrants back to the top of the news cycle. Last week, DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen blamed everyone she could think of but her own department for the conditions inside facilities and what appears to be DHS’ failure to respond to a surge in family migrations that the agency itself has noted.

“The laws aren’t keeping up with migrant flows,” she told representatives on Capitol Hill.

But, as I have written repeatedly, it’s not that the laws aren’t “keeping up” with trends in migration, it’s that it is the purposeful intent of the Trump administration and DHS to impede migrants from entering the country—even lawfully through the asylum process—as much as possible.

It is the Trump administration that is creating laws in order to achieve this objective.

A study released this month from Human Rights First shows in clarifying detail how the administration’s policies of restricting the asylum process have resulted in an uptick in migrants crossing between ports of entry—thereby attempting to avoid the results of those restrictive policies.

Last week, I speculated that Caal, her father and the group of migrants that crossed near the Antelope Wells port of entry were part of this trend. I went a step further and added that they probably crossed there because they figured the port was so small they wouldn’t encounter the lines and bottlenecks that have turned into migrant camps in Juarez, Tijuana and elsewhere.

It turns out I was at least partly right.

“They’re essentially driving them right up the Antelope Wells area,” Kevin McAleenan, a high-ranking DHS official, told the Washington Post. “[...] the migrants are walking around a kind of barbed wire fence and walking directly up to the port of entry.”

(This brings up the entirely separate issue of DHS’ claims that Caal and her father entered illegally—part of a larger set of questions about specifically where they entered, but that’s an issue for another day.)

Now the largest question looms: what has the government done to both prepare for and deal with this surge? The 1,300 migrants dropped off at the bus station in El Paso the last four days are simply the latest indication of the surge.

That puts a lot of pressure on organizations like Annunciation House. They could use your help.

P.S. The photo at the top of this post was taken in September at Paso Del Norte—the bridge between Juarez and El Paso—by my friend, the photojournalist Zach Nelson. I’m likely heading back to the region this weekend to report on the surge in crossings by migrant families, and within the week, Zach and I should have a story at VICE about the complexities of life in the El Paso borderland. Stay tuned.

The endless, unpunished corruption of Chris Collins

Busted for using his office as a cash-grab and for violating securities law on the White House lawn, Collins keeps coming back.

When people ask me about Chris Collins—friends, family, regular readers of my work—they often refer to him as “that congressman you busted.” While Collins was arrested and indicted nearly two years after I acted on a tip and began investigating him, he never got busted for any of the dirt I found under his fingernails. As I wrote in November, that’s what remains so incredibly frustrating about Collins—for all the shady business I found him engaged in, he hasn’t been held to account for any of it.

The piece below was supposed to be the first edition of this newsletter, but I got distracted with some immigration news, insane findings about Facebook, and our economy coughing that first cough that makes you realize a bad cold is coming on, except this time the cold is a flu called a recession.

I thought I’d break down the Collins saga in a way that my various hard news stories on him don’t. He truly is the perfect subject for Where Do We Go From Here, which is based on the premise that we are being led by people who possess the dangerous combination of ignorance and arrogance, unblinking self-assuredness and blinding stupidity.

Many of them, like Chris Collins, are proud to also conduct themselves in the Trumpian manner of having absolutely zero shame over their misdeeds and crimes. Collins and Trump really are the perfect politicians for this very dumb era. Collins is himself is like a mini-Trump, a test case for how candidates as unthinkably uninformed and corrupt as the president will perform at a local level, where politicians’ decisions have a more direct and lasting impact on citizens’ daily lives. So far, things are looking pretty good for that political animal: despite being under federal indictment for a financial crime, Collins won re-election.

I plan to launch investigations into other lawmakers in the coming year. I dare not say I won’t find anyone as nakedly corrupt as Collins, but it really is difficult to imagine stumbling upon a more shady politician knowing what I currently do about his many conflicts of interest.

As the stories about Collins and his fellow corruptos of the Trump era pile up it will hopefully provide a greater understanding of how we largely failed to respond to the greatest challenge of our time—climate change—in favor of making sure no one touches our guns, of giving massive tax breaks to corporations and the super wealthy while saddling the nation with historic debt, and of creating a completely unfounded White Panic amongst an entire generation of voters about Brown People emigrating here.

Come to think of it, this’ll actually end up being a long list by the time it’s all said and done. But until then, we begin with one Christopher Carl Collins of Clarence, New York.

***

Like all epics, we must start at the very beginning, which in this case occurred on a stingingly cold night in Chicago in the winter of 2015. Over Malorts and beers at my corner spot at the Billy Goat, a friend from DC began telling me about Collins, then an unknown backbencher who hadn’t yet become the first member of Congress to endorse Trump for president, thus giving him that instant and tacky boost of fame that everyone who chooses to grovel at the Trump’s feet is granted by his adulating fans. Collins was in deep with the pharmaceutical industry, my friend said. He was trying to cut an obscure government health care program called 340B, she told me in excruciatingly wonky detail. I had to stop her. What is he doing that’s so shady and potentially illegal? I asked. Why, in other words, should I care?

Because 340B helps poor hospitals in inner cities and remote rural communities afford outrageously priced prescription drugs, she said. And Collins was going after it because in addition to the program helping out poor people, it was also screwing over the pharmaceutical industry (although not by much in the grand scale, which I’ll get to later). Plus, he was brazen about his corruption. He didn’t care or didn’t seem to care that everyone knew about his connections to Big Pharma. He bragged about “how many millionaires” he’d made while talking to colleagues on the House floor. He was, in the very truest form of the phrase, a scumbag politician. And if there is one thing reporters will get fired up enough to do something about over beers and Malorts late at night in the barroom where Mike Royko once sat with Studs Terkel, it is scumbag politicians.

I began digging as soon as I made it back to Texas. The blueprint was already there, thanks to the incredible reporting of Emily Kopp and Rachel Bluth of Kaiser Health News. They’d discovered a network of Collins’ family, friends, business contacts from Buffalo (where Collins owns several companies) and fellow congressman who were all invested in an Australian pharmaceutical company called Innate Immunotherapeutics. Weird, right? Or was it? If I knew of an obscure company that had a potentially groundbreaking drug—and Innate did in MIS416, a treatment for secondary multiple sclerosis that would have been worth millions had it not failed in trials—I might want to tell my people about it and help them get in on the action. There’s just one problem with this: if you’re a director at a company, like Collins was, it can be illegal to tip people off to hot stocks. That’s because as a director Collins had what’s called material non-public information. It’s the type of insider knowledge that, if dropped at a certain time, could save or make investors a ton of cash. That’s what Collins was finally busted for—telling his son to dump his stocks because Collins had just gotten an email from Innate’s CEO that said MIS416 was a dud.

Knowing that the failure of the drug would mean tens of thousands of dollars in losses for his son, Collins called him up to tell him the bad news and, allegedly, to dump his shares in Innate. If Collins’ son were anyone other than Collins’ son, he likely wouldn’t have known that material non-public information. That he did was a crime on Collins’ part, and one committed from the White House lawn.

Kopp and Bluth had exposed the spider web of connections between the company, its investors and Collins. If anyone should be given credit for busting Collins, it’s them, because they were the first on the scene when the body was still warm. I went a little further, and after five months of digging, went to print with a story about Collins introducing or sponsoring legislation that would have helped Innate.

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