hill country observerThe independent newspaper of eastern New York, southwestern Vermont and the Berkshires


Editorial December 2019 - January 2020



In impeachment role, Stefanik hears no evil


U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik has often cast herself in the role of a Susan Collins or Olympia Snowe, the current and former Republican senators from Maine, who over the course of many years built reputations as bipartisan pragmatists.

But any pretense of bipartisan moderation was pretty much shattered last month by Stefanik’s new role in the House Intelligence Committee’s impeachment hearings, where she emerged as one of President Trump’s chief defenders.

Her performance drew praise from the president himself: “A new Republican Star is born,” Trump tweeted after watching her questioning of one witness. It also set off a wave of contributions to her expected Democratic challenger in 2020, Tedra Cobb, who raked in more than $1 million in donations in a single weekend.

It’s far from clear, of course, whether Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, is facing real political peril. Her district, which stretches from Washington County to the Canadian border and west to Lake Ontario, leans Republican, and she easily defeated Cobb in their first match-up last year.
But the substance of Stefanik’s statements and questions, and her willingness to play loose with the facts while defending the president, should give pause to swing voters, who actually still do exist even in our polarized era.

To be fair, the congresswoman’s tone was more civil than that of some of her Republican colleagues. She didn’t shout or berate the witnesses. Yet she seemed determined to obfuscate and deflect attention from the substance of the witnesses’ testimony.

On the last day of the Intelligence Committee hearings, before questioning Fiona Hill, the former top Russia expert at the National Security Council, Stefanik took a minute to upbraid her Democratic colleagues with a statement that seemed in part directed at Hill.

“Not a single Republican member of this committee has said that Russia did not meddle in the 2016 election,” Stefanik said, pointing out that the panel’s Republicans issued a report last year with various recommendations for deterring future foreign interference in U.S. elections.
What Stefanik didn’t mention is that the report she and her GOP colleagues produced stood alone in ignoring a key conclusion of U.S. intelligence officials, one that was documented extensively by the Mueller investigation and backed by the Senate Intelligence Committee – namely, that Russia’s intervention in the 2016 campaign wasn’t just aimed at sowing discord but was specifically designed to boost Donald Trump’s candidacy.

Worse, Stefanik and her colleagues lately have been propping up a debunked conspiracy theory, spread by the president, that it was really Ukraine, not Russia, that interfered in the election.
Hill, whose statements inspired more confidence than those of her questioners from either party, specifically pleaded in her opening statement for elected officials not to dignify this theory, which she described as “a fictional narrative that has been perpetrated and propagated by the Russian security services themselves.”

Hill was the last in a series of witnesses whose testimony, at a minimum, painted a deeply troubling picture of the president’s handling of U.S. national security interests in Ukraine.
If Elise Stefanik wasn’t disturbed by anything she heard in the Intelligence Committee hearings, she should try taking her fingers out of her ears.



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