Stefanik: Tracking political opponents is common

U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Willsboro, greets attorney Stefanie DiLallo Bitter at a Lunch with Your Legislators event on Wednesday at the Queensbury Hotel in Glens Falls. (Photo — Michael Goot, The Post-Star)

GLENS FALLS — U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik on Wednesday said the 17-year-old who secretly recorded Democratic opponent Tedra Cobb is currently an unpaid intern for her campaign, but said she did not know about the video he taped in May before he began working for her.

Preston Scagnelli was the teen identified as recording Cobb at a “Teens for Tedra” event a couple of months ago. Cobb made comments on the video stating that she thinks assault weapons should be banned, but added that she cannot take that position publicly and get elected in New York’s 21st Congressional District.

Stefanik, R-Willsboro, said Scagnelli began interning in June. She said she plans to keep him on the campaign and said she did not have an issue with the fact that Scagnelli used the fake name “Grayson” and said he was not recording because his phone was dead, even though he actually was.

“I have an issue with my opponent, who is trying to blame the teenager for her own words,” Stefanik said in a brief interview following a Lunch with Your Legislators event at the Queensbury Hotel. “Again, I have been tracked at private fundraisers. I’ve been tracked outside my home. I’ve been tracked walking in and out of the Capitol, walking in and out of committee hearings. I know that words matter, and it’s important that you be very clear about your positions.”

Scagnelli was paid nearly $1,000 by the National Republican Congressional Committee for his “research materials consulting,” which likely included the Cobb video and other instances where he tracked Cobb. The video was uploaded to the YouTube channel “Democrat Tracking” and picked up by national Republicans and the conservative Washington Free Beacon website.

Stefanik reiterated that her campaign does not employ trackers, who follow candidates around and record them to see if they contradict themselves.

“As a candidate for federal office, I’ve been tracked for four years since I first ran, I assume by the DCCC [Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee],” she said.

Stefanik said her Democratic opponents in the last two election cycles were tracked, as was former U.S. Rep. Bill Owens, a Democrat.

“This is really about my opponent making statements that are problematic for her campaign and trying to blame someone else for her statements. Words matter. It’s important to be clear about your positions, both in public and in private, when talking to voters,” Stefanik said.

Stefanik said Scagnelli is part of a group of young Republicans in Saratoga County that help with campaigns at the Assembly, state Senate and congressional levels. These interns make phone calls to voters and march in parades. Youths who are interested reach out via her website or local Republican county chairpersons and young Republican groups.

“It’s a pretty informal internship, but we have hundreds of interns and volunteers who are young kids, high schoolers, college kids across the district,” she said.

When pressed further about whether Stefanik had any issue with the misrepresentation, she deferred to the RNCC, stating she did not know the terms of the contract and had not heard about Scagnelli’s work for the RNCC until reading it in the Post-Star. Then she pivoted back to criticizing Cobb.

“I know as a candidate, the person who is accountable for their words is the candidate themselves,” she said.

Stefanik said she has been very clear on her positions, particularly when it comes to the Second Amendment.

“It’s been I don’t know how many weeks since my opponent won’t state whether she supports an assault weapons ban,” she said.

When contacted for comment Wednesday afternoon, Cobb would not state whether she supports an assault weapons ban. She said she owns a firearm and that every American has the right to do the same under the Second Amendment. She believes in expanding background checks to close loopholes that make it easy for convicted criminals, suspected terrorists and domestic abusers to get guns.

Cobb would not respond to a follow-up inquiry about whether she would support a reinstatement of the assault weapons ban.

Cobb criticized the national Republicans for the video.

“As a candidate and mom, I know there’s a line between legitimate activity to hold candidates accountable and paying minors to lie about who they are. The congressional Republicans have crossed it, and Elise Stefanik has covered it up,” she said.