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Indicted Collins slips into nation's capital, returns to work

WASHINGTON — With a federal indictment hanging over his head in Manhattan and Republican leaders struggling to find a way to replace him on the November ballot in Western New York, Rep. Chris Collins returned to work Tuesday evening in the nation's capital.

Collins, a Republican from Clarence, cast four votes as the House returned to work after a five-week summer recess. But he did not use either a doorway or an elevator that lawmakers frequently use to enter the House chamber, meaning he could not be stopped and asked questions about his Aug. 8 indictment.

His spokeswoman, Sarah Minkel, said earlier Tuesday that Collins would not be responding to questions.

Both Collins and Rep. Duncan Hunter, an indicted Republican from California, returned to the House floor Tuesday, a day after President Trump appeared to criticize the federal cases against them in one of his most controversial tweets ever.

"Two long running, Obama era, investigations of two very popular Republican Congressmen were brought to a well publicized charge, just ahead of the Mid-Terms, by the Jeff Sessions Justice Department," Trump tweeted. "Two easy wins now in doubt because there is not enough time. Good job Jeff......"

Collins is charged with several felony fraud charges, along with lying to a federal agent, in connection with an incident at a picnic at the Trump White House in June 2017.

Prosecutors say that's when Collins made a cell phone to his son Cameron, setting off a series of insider stock trades to dump shares of Innate Immunotherapeutics, an Australian biotech firm.

Collins served on Innate's board at the time, and just before calling his son, the congressman received an email from Innate's CEO, saying the clinical trials of its multiple sclerosis drug had failed.

Hunter — who missed the first House vote Tuesday but made others — is charged with using his campaign fund for personal expenses.

Collins voted for a House-Senate compromise defense authorization bill for fiscal year 2019, for another a bill aimed at increasing the use of biometric information in immigration, for a move to consider the 2019 defense appropriations bill and against a motion to instruct conferees on that same bill.

The three-term lawmaker has insisted he is innocent. Collins at first vowed to run for a fourth term, but three days later Collins said he would suspend his campaign.

Since then, local GOP leaders have been trying to find a way under New York State election law to remove Collins from the ballot and replace him with another candidate.

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