U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik is standing firm on her opposition to impeaching President Donald Trump, saying evidence doesn’t support claims that he asked the Ukrainian president to investigate his political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden.
In an interview Thursday as impeachment hearings continued in Washington, Stefanik supported the president and defended her participation in the hearings that drew national attention to her and the 21st Congressional District.
Adam Schiff, Democratic chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, released a 300-page Trump-Ukraine Impeachment Inquiry Report on Tuesday, outlining public and closed-door interviews with witnesses. The inquiry was centered on whether Trump asked Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden and his son, Hunter.
“The impeachment inquiry has found that President Trump, personally and acting through agents within and outside of the U.S. government, solicited the interference of a foreign government, Ukraine, to benefit his re-election,” Schiff wrote in the report.
In an interview with the Times, when asked if it’s right for a sitting president to ask the leader of a foreign country to investigate one of his political rivals, Stefanik said that’s not what the transcript says. On July 25, Trump spoke with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky on the phone for 30 minutes, and the White House released a transcript of the call. In the call, Trump asks Zelensky for a favor, referencing an issue from 2016 that he would like looked into.
“There is no mention of Biden in that portion of the call,” Stefanik said.
While true, the phone call continues. After the Ukrainian president said cooperation from his country was important, Trump asks Zelensky to look into Biden.
“The other thing,” Trump said in the call, “there’s a lot of talk about Biden’s son, that Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that so whatever you can do with the attorney general would be great. Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution, so if you can look into it. ... It sounds horrible to me.”
When asked if she is suggesting Trump never asked Zelensky to investigate Biden or his son, Stefanik said: “I’m saying look at the transcript. I’m saying the transcript is the most important piece of evidence that we had.”
When asked to clarify after the interview, Madison Anderson, her communications director, said “Ms. Stefanik stands by her position, which is that there was no solicitation for an investigation into Biden on the call.”
Trump has also been accused of conditioning the release of security aid to Ukraine on their president investigating Biden. Stefanik, in response to those accusations, said there was never an investigation into the Bidens and Ukraine received aid from the United States.
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Schiff’s report also cites phone records showing contacts between Rep. Devin Nunes, the ranking Republican on the impeachment committee; Hill writer John Solomon; Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer; and Lev Parnas, who played a central role in Giuliani’s efforts to dig up dirt on Trump’s rivals. Parnas has since been indicted on campaign-finance charges. The report includes phone records showing Nunes spoke to Parnas for 8 minutes and 34 seconds in April.
“I don’t know the details of those conversations or the veracity of the accusations that Schiff is making,” Stefanik said. “But what I do know is that it is stunning that a committee chair would use surveillance powers on a member of Congress and members of the press.”
When asked if Nunes should have recused himself from the impeachment hearings, Stefanik said Schiff should have instead.
“For two years,” Stefanik said, “he (Schiff) has said he has evidence of President Trump colluding with the Russians and yet has failed to produce a shred of evidence.”
Stefanik voted no on the report filed by Democrats. She favors the Republicans’ alternative report, alleging there was no evidence of bribery, treason or high crimes. And that there was no quid pro quo between Trump and Zelensky. She opposes impeaching the president. She is proud of her line of questioning during the impeachment hearings, and she’s calling out her Democratic challenger in the 2020 congressional race, Tedra Cobb.
“She (Cobb) fails to take a position on virtually every single issue,” Stefanik said. “Voters deserve to know that. They know where I stand on these key issues. If you want to be under the microscope, you’ve got to take a position.”
When asked about her stance on the report, and a response to Stefanik’s comments, Cobb issued a statement.
“This is a serious matter of national security and members of Congress have a constitutional duty to listen to testimony and examine all the evidence. Sadly, my opponent has chosen to use these hearings to bolster her political career while continuing to ignore the needs of Northern New Yorkers. But my priorities are the same as they always have been: to listen to and work with people across this district to provide access to affordable health care, protect Medicare and Social Security and protect our natural resources.”
Stefanik, when elected was the youngest woman ever elected to Congress, has used Twitter to reach supporters across the country, and celebrities have countered her by telling their millions of followers to donate to Cobb.
“Twitter is an important tool, but it’s not reflective of reality,” she said. “And it’s certainly not reflective of the views in my district. Every day of the week I side with North Country voters over Hollywood celebrities who are C-listers like Rosie O’Donnell and Chelsea Handler, who have nothing better to do with their time but smear women who have different beliefs.”
Stefanik has prided herself on a bipartisan voting record and a ability to disagree with the president. But since she opposed the House Intelligence Committee’s impeachment inquiry — Trump called her a star to his nearly 70-million Twitter followers and to the viewers of Fox News — many have started calling her the GOP’s favorite daughter, its poster child and Trump’s most ardent defender. When asked about losing her bipartisanship, she said it’s “absolutely wrong,” bringing up two votes that took place during the impeachment hearings. She was one of 12 Republicans to vote alongside Democrats to continue funding the government. And she voted across the aisle to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank of the United States.
“Those are two really big votes,” she said. “But they were drowned out by the media’s focus on the impeachment hearings.”