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National Notary Association: Strough can't witness from afar

John Strough

Chris Strough

QUEENSBURY — Notaries must speak to the people who are signing documents in front of them, the National Notary Association said a day after Supervisor John Strough and his wife were arrested on charges related to mishandling notary duties in last year’s election.

Chris Strough is accused of three misdemeanor counts of violating election law by not properly notarizing signatures on Conservative Party nominating petitions last year. She has not returned a call seeking comment.

Supervisor John Strough filed the notarized petitions with the Board of Elections, saying they were done correctly. He is charged with one misdemeanor count of filing a false statement.

But he defended his wife’s work after their arrest Monday. He said she witnessed each signature from their car, watching as he asked residents to sign.

That’s not how it’s supposed to be done, according to the National Notary Association.

“One of the golden rules of the notary is awareness of the signer,” said NNA notary expert Marissa Quintero. “The notary has to ask basic questions.”

Those questions include asking whether anyone is forcing the person to sign.

The notary is also supposed to quietly evaluate the signer.

“If at any point the signer feels coerced, or is not aware, or even just heavily medicated, or elderly people are being pushed to sign, the notary has the right to refuse,” Quintero said.

The notary should also keep a journal that lists each person whose signature is notarized, Quintero said. Those journals are not required in New York State.

“But it’s highly recommended,” Quintero said. “This way, if anyone comes back to the notary and says, did you discriminate against old people by refusing to sign? You can say no, look at my journal, he was heavily medicated.”

On nominating petitions, the rules also state that the notary must “duly swear” each signor. There’s no prescribed ceremony in New York, Quintero said.

“So generally we say, ‘Signer, do you swear everything in this document is true to the best of your belief?’” Quintero said.

She stressed that notaries cannot skip that step.

The Stroughs have hired E. Stewart Jones to represent them in court. Jones noted that Chris Strough had properly notarized many signatures prior to the events in question in this case.

“He already had the signatures he needed,” Jones said. “There’s no motive for this.”

He predicted the case might be simply dismissed.

“I think you’re going to find, at the end of this process, that nothing occurred that warranted this,” he said, adding that he has never heard of a notary being charged in this way before.

The case began last summer, when Strough and supervisor candidate Rachel Seeber were competing for the Conservative Party line on the ballot. Strough was endorsed by the Conservatives, but Seeber was able to get enough signatures to force a primary.

Republicans immediately questioned Strough’s petitions. The Warren County Republican Committee hired Elite Protective and Investigative Services to ask signers whether Strough had been alone when he got their signatures. Several people said yes and signed statements to that effect.

The committee then turned those statements over to the Warren County Sheriff’s Office, which sent them to the Albany County District Attorney’s Office for a special prosecutor, to avoid a conflict of interest.

The Albany District Attorney’s Office and the State Police Special Investigations Unit looked into the case and arrested the Stroughs on Monday.

The committee reported in its January financials that it paid $535 in August for the private investigator who did the work. Seeber has not yet filed her post-election financial report, which was due 27 days after the election.

John Strough

Chris Strough

Stefanik murky on Russia probe

The House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Texas, made the decision to shut down the committee’s probe into Russian meddling and collusion with the Trump Campaign, according to NY-21 Rep. Elise Stefanik’s spokesman Tom Flanagin.

Stefanik, R-Willsboro, is a member of the intelligence committee.

“There wasn’t a vote,” Flanagin said about the Monday evening announcement. “Congresswoman Stefanik believes it’s time to give the American people the information they have obtained in order to protect our nation against further Russian attempts to influence our elections.”

Despite Flanagin’s contention that Conaway made the decision, other reports about the Republican move point to the majority committee as the decision-makers.

According to the one-page majority committee summary released on Monday night, “The House Intelligence Committee has completed a draft report of 150+ pages, with 600+ citations.” The summary is published on official committee letterhead.

Additionally, in a 22-page report, “Status of the Russia Investigation,” released on Tuesday evening by the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Ca., the majority committee decided to end the probe.

Schiff details an extensive list of witnesses that have not yet been interviewed and documents that have not yet been released, despite month’s-old requests for the documents. He said, in the 22-page status of the Russia investigation report, the majority decision was made without the consensus of the entire committee.

“This is representative of partisanship at its worst,” NY-21 Democratic challenger Don Boyajian, of Cambridge, said in a Tuesday afternoon interview. “This is an issue of national security. This is party over country and partisanship in the worst possible way. “

When pressed by The Post-Star for an interview with the congresswoman to clarify her position regarding the Russia probe, the committee ending the investigation and the committee’s decision along party lines, Flanagin said she was too busy, despite a 6:05 p.m., Monday, request.

“Unfortunately, her schedule today is committed to House Armed Services Committee work, constituent meetings and other media interviews on this topic,” Flanagin said on Tuesday. “I would refer you to her statement on this.”

According to her prepared statement, Stefanik, R-Willsboro, believes the Russians intended to interfere with the 2016 election process. But she did not say if she agreed or disagreed with the one-page intelligence committee majority report finding that there was “no evidence of collusion, coordination or conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Russians.”

“I have been concerned about the politicization and leaks throughout this Congressional investigation, which is why I will continue to be an outspoken supporter of the Mueller investigation, which I believe is best equipped and our best hope to get to the apolitical truth,” Stefanik said in her statement on the issue.

“This is a classic Stefanik maneuver. Say one thing and do something else,” Boyajian said. “She tries to have it both ways with everything, health care, the environment. She tries to appear bipartisan. How can you make that vote (the release of the majority report) and then say the investigation is worthwhile?”

Boyajian continued.

“It’s not factually consistent with her actions,” he said. “It’s not only confusing, it’s a disservice to American people.”

Stefanik did talk to the Plattsburgh Press-Republican on Tuesday afternoon.

“I believe that we’ve seen evidence that Russia did seek to hurt the Hillary Clinton campaign,” she said to the Press-Republican. “I will continue to focus on this, both on the Intelligence Committee and in my capacity as the chair of Emerging Threats (subcommittee) to counter Russia’s undermining of democratic institutions and the electoral processes.”

The congresswoman also said in a release she believes the best way to get to the truth is through the Mueller investigation.

“I believe that they’re uniquely positioned. They have access to all witnesses and information,” she said to the Press-Republican. “They haven’t had to deal with executive privilege claims; and they haven’t had lapses in confidentiality.”

NY-21 constituent Joe Seeman of Saratoga County noted that Stefanik’s statement does not mention the majority committee conclusion.

“The House Intel Republicans spokesperson, Rep. Conaway, said that there was no evidence of collusion and that the Russians were not trying to help Trump win,” Seeman said. “But Stefanik’s statement completely omits any reference to these conclusions, although her statement includes a link to the Republicans’ statement.

“Why do you think Stefanik omitted the conclusions? Does she not agree with them? Could she be trying to falsely portray herself as somehow not part of this attempt to cover up for Trump and Putin in this unparalleled foreign attack on America’s democracy?” Seeman asked.

Stefanik did not respond to similar questions from The Post-Star.