Stefanik: Russian interference widespread, but no Trump involvement

U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Willsboro, talks with The Post-Star’s editorial board in 2018 at the newspaper’s Glens Falls office. (Photo provided — Kathleen Phalen-Tomaselli, The Post-Star)

BEEKMANTOWN — Congresswoman Elise Stefanik says the Mueller report shows some startling information about Russian involvement in American elections and changes need to be made.

“I don’t think there was an understanding of the breadth and depth of just how much Russia was trying to undermine our electoral process,” Stefanik, R-Shuylerville, told reporters prior to her “Coffee With The Congresswoman” event Friday morning at Thomas J. Duffy Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1466 in Beekmantown.

“It was stunning to read how systemic it was in the Mueller report. This wasn’t just Facebook ads, this wasn’t just disinformation campaigns; this was targeted hacking of the committees, targeted outreach to senior people in presidential campaigns.

“That should concern every American.”

Understand the threat

Stefanik, who at 30 was the youngest woman ever elected to Congress when she first won in 2014 in the 21st District, was re-elected in 2016 and again in 2018.

It is probably not over in terms of Russia continuing to try to interfere with elections, she said.

“As candidates for office, we need to ensure that in the future we need to understand the threat that our electoral system is under and that we strengthen the legitimacy of our elections in a sense that we understand that Russia is targeting us.

“And I anticipate that they will try to do so in the future, to sow this discord,” she said.

“Certainly, we can do that through appropriation tactics like investing in cyber security,” she continued.

But there should be general awareness for candidates, she said, whether for Congress, for president …

“I think it would be very important for every presidential candidate and their campaigns, because we have so many running, that they actually receive threat assessments from the FBI on the front end of the campaign, and perhaps quarterly or a few times a year so there is an understanding.”

Be prepared

Stefanik said candidates need to report any tampering from a foreign agent directly to the FBI, and political parties need to prepare candidates better to protect them from interference.

“I think both committees, the DNC and RNC (Democrats and Republican campaign committees), should provide more briefings for candidates and campaign staff earlier as to potential threats, because in 2014, this was not an issue that we anticipated.

“And again, the Mueller report found that Russia was trying to meddle going back to 2014.”

Stefanik said members of President Trump’s campaign showed poor judgement in taking meetings with Russian agents, but more should have been done when it all happened to avoid further trouble.

“I think the FBI should have notified Congress, I think the FBI should have worked more effectively with the Obama administration to make sure that both campaigns understood the threat they were under, because Russia also was clearly meddling and hacking the DNC and using tactics to sow discord on both sides,” she said.

“We need to ensure that does not happen again in the future. One of the major outcomes of the Mueller report is raising the awareness of how systemic this threat is so that we avoid it going forward.”

Opposes impeachment

Stefanik said she supported the Mueller investigation, feeling it was the best way to get to the apolitical truth.

“It found that there was no collusion, and that is something that as Americans we should be happy with, but it also really rang the bell that Russia tried to undermine our elections going back to 2014,” she said.

“We need to make sure we have secure elections moving forward, and I think that is an opportunity to do that on a bipartisan basis.

“I am working on that as a member of the Armed Services Committee, making sure that we have cyber resources within the Department of Defense, and I am working on that on the Intelligence Committee, making sure we have an intel understanding of the threat from Russia or other potential foreign adversaries.”

Stefanik said she does not agree with impeaching the president in the wake of the Mueller report, as do some Democratic members of Congress.

“We are going to have an election in 2020, and we already have numerous candidates running, so the American people are going to have an opportunity to have their voices heard through their votes,” she said.

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