U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik

U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Willsboro, talks with The Post-Star's editorial board on Monday at the newspaper's Glens Falls office. 

GLENS FALLS — U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Willsboro, said on Monday she disagrees with the current administration’s decision to allow interim security clearances for people who have access to classified information.

“I am deeply, deeply concerned with the security clearance issue,” Stefanik said during a meeting with The Post-Star editorial board.

The congresswoman was referring to White House staff secretary Rob Porter, who resigned last week after domestic abuse issues surfaced. It was noted at the time that Porter did not have an FBI security clearance.

“The staff secretary is one of the most important jobs; you handle every document that comes and goes from the Oval Office,” Stefanik said. “You handle every document sent out from the White House.”

According to several news sources, about 30 to 40 people are still operating in the White House with no security clearance, including Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and close adviser.

“I think you should only have access to classified information if you have clearance. Period. End of story,” Stefanik said. “I worked in the West Wing as a young staffer and I had to go through the security clearance process. I had to be cleared because I worked in the Chief of Staff’s office. There was no such thing as an interim security clearance during the Bush Administration, to the best of my knowledge.”

During the hour-long discussion, Post-Star Editor Ken Tingley expressed the editorial board’s concerns.

“We just wanted to emphasize how concerned we are with what’s going on in the country, what’s going on in Washington, and specifically what’s going on with the current administration and the president,” Tingley said to the congresswoman, who was accompanied by spokesman Tom Flanagin. “We’re hoping you can give us your take on the president’s behavior, his tweeting, his brinksmanship with something like North Korea, his incessant lying or mischaracterizations of facts.”

And in what became a far-reaching discussion with the seven editorial board members, including three citizen members, Stefanik said she disagreed with the president or his administration regarding several key issues.

“As a member of Congress, I think it is important to remain focused and be the best representative you can be. I have been very independent and when there are issues I disagree with, I state so,” she said. “I opposed his rhetoric when it came to the specific cuts to the EPA; I’ve opposed his rhetoric numerous times toward women. Also, while I wasn’t in the room during that comment about refugee nations, I opposed it.”

She continued: “I think the past week is something worth talking about, the issues with domestic violence within the White House. There should be zero tolerance for domestic violence,” Stefanik said. “So there are areas where I disagree with the president, but if there are areas I agree with, then I am going to work with him.”

Tingley pressed Stefanik on issues of Trump’s behavior, asking her again, “Do you have concerns?”

“I do have concerns with some of the rhetoric in terms of some of the distractions that occur from the use of Twitter. I have said publicly before, I think that I don’t use Twitter the same way that the president does and I think that sometimes it’s a distraction from what the American public wants us to focus on,” Stefanik said. “I think most people, whether you vehemently disagree with the president or you agree with him, people want Congress to be working with the administration on issues that matter to their community.”

Still, while Stefanik has concerns about certain decisions and behaviors within the Trump administration, she did say there have been times he has reached out toward compromise.

“Again, I think that sometimes I don’t agree with his rhetoric, but he has reached out to forge bipartisan compromises,” she said. “This past budget is not perfect, but it is bipartisan. And I think when it came to the negotiations this past October, he prioritized Senators Schumer and Pelosi’s position. On immigration and DACA (the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy), I anticipate there will be a bipartisan fix.”

In addition to security clearance concerns, the congresswoman said she is troubled by Russia and that country’s increasing aggression.

“I disagree with his (Trump) position on Russia. I believe that Russia is an adversary,” Stefanik said. “In terms of Russia’s use of cyberattacks, in terms of Russia’s use of information operation and influence campaigns, I’m deeply concerned.”

She pointed to what she calls Russia’s destabilization efforts.

“Taking a step back, what is a bigger threat to me is Russia’s increased aggression, whether cyber tools, military operations filling voids that the U.S. has left,” she said. “The cyberattacks and influencer campaigns are a small but significant piece of broader Russian aggression that’s happening around the world. I think the bigger threat is their destabilization efforts when it comes to relationships with our NATO allies.”

Regarding the FBI and the Mueller investigation?

“I disagree on his (Trump) attacks on law enforcement and the Department of Justice. I have confidence in the Mueller investigation. I have repeatedly and explicitly said that I support the Mueller investigation.”

Regarding her own initiatives?

The congresswoman said that four of her initiatives have become law (see accompanying story) and that she works with both Democrats and Republicans to get things done.

“I’m proud to be in the top 10 percent of members with a bipartisan record,” she said. “I think that’s why I’ve been effective at getting some of the bipartisan legislation across the finish line.”

And she said that aside from the rumbling in Washington, “most people are focused on making sure their kids have opportunities, that they are able to save for college, and they are worried about health-care costs. They are interested in quality of health care and access. They’re focused on issues like broadband and cell coverage, jobs and potential wage growth over time.”

She continued: “Those are the nuts and bolts issues that are very important despite the controversy. I believe members of Congress need to be focused on the issues that matter in their communities. And that’s why I highlighted those four wins.”

Kathleen Phalen-Tomaselli is a features writer at The Post-Star. She can be reached at kphalen-tomaselli@poststar.com for comments or story ideas.

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