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Cobb says Stefanik silent on US soldier bounties

Stefanik says she’s in on high-level security briefings

(Cobb photo by Watertown Daily Times, Stefanik photo by Post-Star)

Democratic congressional candidate Tedra Cobb says incumbent Republican Rep. Elise Stefanik has been “silent” on recent reports that Russia offered the Taliban bounties on the lives of American soldiers in Afghanistan.

Stefanik did not respond to interview requests for this story, but on Tuesday evening her campaign spokesperson sent a press release calling Cobb’s statements “disgusting smears.”

News of the alleged bounties came through newspaper stories on Friday and the days since, citing intelligence community leaks, financial documents and anonymous officials. The articles have not been officially confirmed or denied by the U.S. government. The national defense and armed services committees had not been briefed on the alleged bounties before the New York Times story was published.

Stefanik, who sits on the House Intelligence and Armed Services committees, attended a Monday White House briefing on the topic, releasing a statement afterward.

“I will continue to work with the (presidential) administration to ensure that our number one priority is force protection and protecting our national security — especially our brave men and women in uniform,” Stefanik wrote. “I anticipate additional briefings on this important matter in Afghanistan and my focus is on ensuring the safety and security of our troops.”

Cobb said several Republican lawmakers have called for the Donald Trump administration to brief Congress on the reports and conduct an independent investigation into Russia and the Trump administration’s handling of the case. She said Stefanik has not been vocal enough about this.

“This is an incredibly serious intelligence and national security matter,” Cobb said in a statement. “If the New York Times’ reporting is accurate, we now know that Donald Trump refused to act when Russia put a bounty on American and allied soldiers’ heads. This issue is non-partisan; it is about the lives of American troops.

“Her silence is a complete abdication of her duty to protect the brave men and women of the 10th Mountain Division. Cong. Stefanik should immediately join her Republican colleagues and call for an independent investigation into Russia, and this administration’s failure to act.”

Stefanik campaign spokeswoman Maddie Anderson responded with a press release saying, “Congresswoman Stefanik’s primary concern is and always will be, the well-being, protection, and preparedness of our brave men and women in uniform. Taxin’ Tedra’s embarrassing attempt to claim otherwise is pathetic, inappropriate, and beneath the dignity of a candidate attempting to represent this district.

“Taxin’ Tedra has never and will never receive a classified briefing from our brave intelligence community,” Anderson added. “Taxin’ Tedra can continue to embarrass herself by shamelessly politicizing illegal leaks.”

Cobb, in an interview Tuesday, criticized Stefanik for not attending House Intelligence Committee proceedings over the past few months. A Politico article published Monday reports that Republican members of the committee have not attended its meetings since March, as amid the coronavirus they do not believe it is safe to hold meetings over the web. Democratic members of the committee have been holding public hearings over videoconferencing alone, with one exception when a Texas representative attended.

“She doesn’t deserve the job if she doesn’t show up for it,” Cobb said.

Cobb said Trump is presenting national security threats and endangering soldiers, and that “Stefanik’s silence makes her complicit.”

Cobb said legislators should “put American interests first,” and said she believes Russia is an adversary to America.

Stefanik has also called Russia an “adversary” and co-sponsored or introduced several pieces of legislation targeting Russian cyber-warfare, election security concerns and Russian military aggressiveness in Eastern Europe.

Cobb said Stefanik has not been tough enough, saying Stefanik was “all talk,” without action.

Cobb said if elected, she would serve on the House Armed Service Committee, as New York’s 21st Congressional District contains the Fort Drum military base east of Watertown. Cobb said 250 soldiers from Fort Drum were deployed to Afghanistan in May.

She said reports that GRU, a Russian intelligence agency, had been offering cash rewards as recently as last year to Taliban-linked forces for every confirmed kill of NATO forces in Afghanistan, means those soldiers have been put in danger.

There has been debate over when Trump learned about this bounty program. The administration said he had not been briefed on the topic before Friday, as the information had not been “verified.”

Two anonymous officials told the New York Times they gave Trump a written report on the issue in February. The Associated Press reported that anonymous officials said then-national security adviser John Bolton personally briefed Trump on the issue in November 2019.

Stefanik, in a statement Monday, said Trump has been tough on Russia.

“Since 2017, the Trump Administration has taken decisive actions to counter Russian aggression, including imposing strict sanctions, expelling Russian intelligence officers, closing Russian consulates and significantly increasing U.S. funding for the European Defense Initiative,” Stefanik wrote. “In addition, I have worked with the Administration to rebuild our military readiness and intelligence capabilities gutted by President (Barack) Obama and Vice President (Joe) Biden.”

Biden is the Democrat running against Trump in the November election.

Cobb said she is not yet sure what she would do in regard to Russia, as she said the intelligence community would need to brief Congress first.

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