Attack ads released this week by the north country’s incumbent U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik and challenger Tedra Cobb each accuse the other of “silence” on the deaths of certain Americans, tying that silence to a high-profile leader of each one’s political party.
Here are the facts, the erroneous claims and the whole story behind these two ads.
Cobb’s ad says Stefanik, a Republican from Schuylerville, has been silent on intelligence reports that Russia paid bounties to the Taliban for killing U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan. Cobb, a Democrat from Canton, said the congresswoman is more concerned with protecting President Donald Trump than protecting U.S. soldiers. Cobb’s implication here is that Trump is too close to Russian politics to criticize them, and that Stefanik is too close to Trump to criticize him.
Stefanik’s ad says Cobb had been silent about COVID-19 deaths in New York nursing homes, saying Cobb was appointed by and took donations from Gov. Andrew Cuomo, whose Health Department advised that COVID-19 patients be transferred to nursing homes. The implication here is that Cobb is unwilling to criticize Cuomo, whom Stefanik has aggressively pursued — successfully — to open a federal investigation into his handling of the situation. The Department of Justice is looking into Cuomo and four other governors’ decisions to require nursing homes to accept COVID-19-positive residents leaving hospitals at the beginning of the pandemic, which has allegedly led to thousands of deaths around the state.
Stefanik’s ad begins with a sentence that needs clarification.
“Taxin’ Tedra Cobb worked for Andrew Cuomo,” the voiceover says. The ad references her appointment to the North Country Health System’s Redesign Commission in 2013.
Cobb was appointed by state Department of Health Commissioner Nirav Shah, who was appointed by Cuomo, but Cobb’s appointment here was one step removed from a “Cuomo appointment,” as Stefanik has alleged in the past.
However, Cobb has not always gotten this right herself.
The Stefanik campaign has cited as evidence a clip of Cobb speaking to voters at a forum, in which she says, “I was appointed by the governor to serve on the New York State Health Care Redesign Commission.”
Cobb campaign spokeswoman Mauranda Simmons said Cobb “misspoke” at this forum.
Cobb sent a statement on the nursing homes issue Wednesday, saying the governor, as well as federal lawmakers, should be “held accountable for their mistakes.” However, she also said the federal government response to COVID-19 has been lacking.
“It’s been 6 months since the NY PAUSE order and we still don’t have a consistent or realistic Federal response to meet this moment,” Cobb said in an email. “And unless we put aside the finger-pointing and the partisanship we won’t have that.”
Earlier in her political career, as a St. Lawrence County legislator, Cobb was appointed to the Committee on Open Government by Gov. Eliot Spitzer and was later reappointed by Gov. David Paterson. She left the committee in 2010 when her term on the legislature was finished, right before Cuomo was elected.
The ad also says, “Cobb even supported the Governor’s attempt to take life-saving equipment away from the north country.” While Stefanik successfully opposed Cuomo’s plan to use an executive order to move ventilators and personal protective equipment from north country hospitals to downstate facilities in the spring, Cobb never spoke about this plan.
Stefanik’s ad also notes that Cobb has received donations from Cuomo. In 2018, Cuomo’s campaign donated the maximum of $2,700 to Cobb’s campaign.
Cobb’s ad begins with footage of a humvee nearly getting hit by an explosive.
“Deadly silence,” the voiceover says. “Intelligence reports say Russia is offering the Taliban bounties to kill U.S. troops.”
These reports were leaked to major U.S. newspapers in June, citing anonymous officials, interrogations of Afghan militants and financial documents.
Trump White House officials learned of these reports in early 2019. After the 2020 leaks, members of both major political parties demanded answers from the intelligence community and Trump administration, and asked for punitive measures to be taken against the countries and individuals involved in the alleged bounty program.
No consequences have been doled out so far, and new information on the program has been scarce.
“Instead of outrage and action, Elise Stefanik and Donald Trump remain silent, unwilling to confront Putin to protect our troops,” the ad says.
Cobb said Stefanik should “call for an independent investigation into Russia, and this administration’s failure to act.”
Stefanik has not been completely silent on the bounty issue, but she has not been particularly vocal or critical.
Following a June 29 classified briefing in her role as a member of the House Armed Services Committee, Stefanik released a statement saying force protection and national security is her “number-one priority.” The rest of the statement praised the Trump administration’s “decisive actions to counter Russian aggression.”
There is no consensus among federal agencies on the accuracy of these reports. The Central Intelligence Agency and Defense Intelligence Agency have vouched for their credibility. The National Security Agency “strongly dissented” from that assessment. The Department of Defense has not made its assessment public.
Trump has called the reports “fake news” and a possible “hoax.”
Stefanik has not questioned the credibility of these reports but has chastised the media and leakers for causing “damage” to troop protection by informing the public about the bounty plot reports.
Cobb’s ad also criticized Stefanik for not attending months of House Intelligence Committee meetings this year.
“Stefanik shows up for Trump rallies but won’t even do her job and show up for Intelligence Committee meetings to keep our troops safe,” Cobb’s ad says. “Elise Stefanik is protecting Trump, not our troops.”
Stefanik has said her absence at these meetings, and that of eight other Republicans on the committee, is due to their concerns that the method of meeting via video conferencing during the pandemic is not secure.
Republicans also boycotted a hearing on emerging technology and national security in February, in the final days of Trump’s impeachment trial, calling it a “distraction” from more urgent concerns, such as a watchdog report identifying errors and abuses in the FBI’s domestic surveillance program.
Stefanik criticized Cobb for not having a plan for Russia herself.
“Tedra Cobb is on record in the ADK Enterprise saying she does not know what she would do about Russia,” Stefanik spokeswoman Madison Anderson wrote in an email.
When the leaks happened, Cobb told the Enterprise she was not yet sure what she would do in regard to Russia, saying she wanted more information first.