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2016 election

Congressman discusses impeachment hearings and more

Congressman Lee Zeldin. File photo by Victoria Espinoza

The U.S. House of Representatives has recommended filing articles of impeachment of the 45th president of the United States of America Donald J. Trump (R). Many elected officials, mostly Democrats and constitutional scholars, see a moral and legal imperative for their position, while Republicans have largely remained loyal to their party leader. With some experts saying that the nation is under threat, the situation demands   everyone’s full attention. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY-1) is the elected congressional representative for most of Suffolk County. His district extends to the west to the eastern edges of Kings Park and includes Smithtown and Hauppauge and parts of Commack. Hours after the recommendation was announced on Dec. 5, Rep. Zeldin agreed to an email interview on the topic of impeachment. 

Do you see any compelling reason for impeachment?

No.

In your view, what constitutes a crime or misdemeanor offense worthy of impeachment?

Treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors as laid out in Section 4 of Article II of the Constitution.

(Article II, Section 4 of the Constitution: The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.)

What’s your reaction to the impeachment?

Instead of focusing on opposing everything and anything, House Democrats should focus on the issues most important to the American people, working on bipartisan victories to pass the [U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement] USMCA, combat the heroin and opioid abuse epidemic, secure our borders and so much more. 

(Editor’s note: The White House and House Democrats reached a deal Dec. 10 to pass the USMCA.)

Why did you, along with other House Republicans, interrupt a committee meeting that had members of both parties in attendance and stall the impeachment probe?

The premise of your question is false. As a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, I was already in the SCIF in my seat when those other members walked in.

What is your take on House Republicans interrupting on Oct. 23 the impeachment probe committee meeting?   

There should have been greater transparency and a fairer process in the first place. They were very frustrated as elected members of Congress being completely in the dark while being asked questions back home from constituents and local media about what was going on with the impeachment inquiry.

Do you believe a U.S. president should use U.S. taxpayer dollars as leverage to coerce a foreign leader to investigate a political rival? 

If you are asking that question related to the Ukraine fact pattern, then I disagree with the premise of your question.

What is your take on what happened with President Trump requesting [help from]Ukraine leader Volodymyr Zelensky? 

Can you clarify this question?

Clarification: Do you find any of these actions objectionable? President Trump requested in a July 25, 2019, phone call that Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky take a call from his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani to discuss an investigation into the son of his political rival. The White House then placed that same day a formal hold on $250 million congressionally approved security funding for Ukraine. The funds were ultimately released Sept. 11 after a whistle-blower filed a complaint, 85 days after the Pentagon announced that aid had become available, 19 days before funds expire.

That is your version of the story. You are entitled to your opinion but I obviously would disagree with the premise of your question.

Do you believe that Ukraine and not Russia interfered in the 2016 election?

Russia interfered in the 2016 election. Ukrainians also interfered in the 2016 election. That is indisputable. The scope and nature of the interference was different in the two examples, not on the same scale, and should not be equated.

Are you planning to make the impeachment proceedings a point in your upcoming reelection campaign?

The Democrats are ripping our country in half with their destructive impeachment obsession.

Has anything in the ongoing impeachment proceedings changed your mind concerning the actions of the president?

No.

Can you please tell us how many former members of Trump’s campaign, cabinet and personal lawyers have been investigated and/or convicted of crimes? What’s your reaction to this?

I’m not aware of any new information to add beyond what you know already.

As a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, when did you become aware of the removal of U.S. troops from Kurdish territories? Do you believe other countries or leaders have benefited from that strategy?  

As I relayed to you immediately following the announcement, the Kurds have fought, bled and died fighting alongside the US. They have been warriors and brothers in battle along the way. The president is right to want to end endless war, but the Turks wiping out the Kurds would absolutely not be an acceptable outcome after all of that.

(On background, Zeldin voted in favor of the House resolution [H.J. Res. 77 Opposing the decision to end certain United States efforts to prevent Turkish military operations against Syrian Kurdish forces in Northeast Syria] regarding this issue. The resolution indicated that the policy was in the best interest of Russia and not U.S.)

What do you believe are President Trump’s top three accomplishments in office? 

Helping grow the economy, tackling illegal immigration and going after MS-13, among many other victories.

Could you list three negative things that he has fostered? 

The SALT deduction change, an offshore drilling proposal impacting the Atlantic and certain funding levels in the federal budget.

Many of your North Shore constituents are calling for more Town Hall-style meetings. Are you planning any?

I had a town hall in September hosted by the Mastic Beach Property Owners Association. The event was completely open to anyone in the public and was widely promoted and attended by the Democratic Party and they got their questions and comments in, including multiple times with 2, 3, and more follow-ups to their original question/comment. This is in addition to Mobile Office Hours, Coffee with Your Congressman and many other meetings and events. This is the pace that I’ve set and maintained since entering Congress in 2015. As I’ve said time and time again, if someone wishes to participate in a future meeting or would like to schedule a time to meet one-on-one, they can contact my office at 631-289-1097 to find a time most convenient for them, including after work or on the weekend. For example, this year in Smithtown alone, I’ve held Mobile Office Hours and Coffee with Your Congressman. 

Can you please define for your constituents what corruption means? 

An example is a corrupt Ukrainian energy company run by a corrupt Ukrainian oligarch hiring someone with no Ukraine experience and no energy experience for at least $50,000 per month for the sole reason that they are the vice president’s son.

Can you please offer the distinctions between a democracy, autocracy and dictatorship? 

The widely accepted definitions are as follows:

Democracy: A government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections.

Autocracy: Government in which one person possesses unlimited power.

Dictatorship: A form of government in which absolute power is concentrated in a dictator or a small clique.

Also, Michael Cohen is behind bars for campaign finance violations that include paying Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal to keep quiet about their affairs with Donald Trump. Cohen testified that it was done in coordination with Donald Trump. Does paying “hush money” to influence the outcome of an election equate with bribery or a high crime or misdemeanor? Why or why not? Is it corruption?  

He made these claims before Congress after pleading guilty to crimes, one of which was lying to Congress. He’s not a reliable witness to say the least.

A scene from Huntington's Pride Parade. Photo by Victoria Espinoza.

By Victoria Espinoza

Today I woke up with a stronger determination than ever to be an ally. An ally to the LGBTQ community, to the Black Lives Matter community, to the Muslim community, the Hispanic community and every other community that woke up this morning feeling scared of the future.

I had gay friends and relatives reach out to me last night as the results were becoming clearer, wondering if they’ll still be able to get married, to adopt children, to feel equal. They need to know they still have support behind them.

As much as those fears made me want to cry and shut down, the feeling of making sure they knew I was on their side and ready to fight for them was stronger.

But then came the embarrassment.

It is unacceptable to me that it took Donald Trump becoming president to feel this strongly about being the loudest ally I can for these communities. It took this dark of a cloud for me to see the light and promise to support like I never have before.

Voting against him clearly was not enough. Crying out and insulting the people who did vote for him isn’t either.

America has been called the great experiment. My God, does that feel accurate today more than ever. We need to keep this experiment moving in the right direction with inclusiveness. This is our country; we do not stop calling ourselves American because we disagree with our new leader.

That’s when we lose.

Those, like me, who feel despair after last night’s results can still win. Not can — we must. It has never been more crucial to stand up for those who have felt oppressed during this election cycle. If we don’t lend our voice to those who feel voiceless, then we are truly going backwards in this country.

Every American has the right to choose their presidential candidate. Almost every point of view is understandable from a certain angle, once you put yourself in someone else’s shoes.

Now put yourself in the shoes of the communities today who are terrified of a Trump administration. They are just as American as those who voted for him. They voted differently, but they accept the results and the new leader of this country.

And the rest of the country damn well better do the same for them, as an American.

With liberty and justice for all — not just pretty words, but a founding principle.

Victoria Espinoza is the editor of the Times of Huntington, Northport & East Northport and the Times of Smithtown.

One thing that cannot be forgotten in the aftermath of one of the most remarkable and shocking nights in American history is how we were failed by our fourth estate. Polls and projections, save a few here and there, for months gave Donald Trump little to no chance of securing the presidency Nov. 8.

This is not because of a slant or bias in polling data but, a complete lack of awareness for a ground swell of sentiment that was made very clear once actual numbers started pouring in on election night, rendering the theoretical data we’d seen for months obsolete. Donald Trump’s shocking victory was not a product of media bias but of a total media ignorance for what can now be classified as a majority of the country’s feelings when it came time to pull a lever or fill in a circle.

This is not to say the media should have given credence to the percentage of voters who cast their ballots Tuesday with less than the purest of intentions, but instead to the political pundits like Corey Lewandowski and Sean Hannity who for weeks used their platforms to warn of a silent vote lurking, waiting to finally make their voices heard when the time was right.

What it should do is light a fire under the people now tasked with covering an administration and constituency that believes in opening up libel laws — making frequent lawsuits against journalists far more likely — and has repeatedly accused the media of trying to rig our most sacred freedom as Americans in favor of the other candidate.

Our work as journalists will never be more difficult, less appreciated or more important than it will be in the next four years. We need to fundamentally change the way the job is perceived and defined by the millions of voters who selected Trump, no matter how difficult that task may be, or how wrong we may believe they are. Unfortunately, perception is reality. I shudder to think that perhaps a chunk of voters decided to stay home Tuesday because polling numbers suggested the race was over weeks ago.

A large part of our job as journalists is covering the town, village and school board meetings that tend to have a more immediate impact on everyday life than federal politics. They are woefully vacant in most cases and admittedly covered in lackluster fashion. That falls at the feet of the media and the public. The lesson that should be gleaned across the board from this election cycle is that apathy and ignorance are not acceptable excuses.

And for those who believe there was a media conspiracy against your candidate, who simultaneously fight tooth and nail for the sanctity of the Second Amendment, don’t forget about the importance of the First Amendment. It’s what allowed pockets of Trump supporters in corners of the nation to spew their passions free of persecution, and that’s the way it should be. Images of a T-shirt worn at a Trump rally made the rounds this week. It read across the back “Rope. Tree. Journalist. Some assembly required.” Don’t forget, the same laws protect journalists, and there probably will be a day during this administration when you’re glad we’re on your side.

Alex Petroski is the editor of the Port Times Record.

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One fact that we can all agree on at the tail end of this clamorous and divisive election season is how happy we are that it is almost over. In a presidential campaign that has been part entertainment, part embarrassment, only slightly about the grave issues of the day, but wholly history making, the people are exhausted. Bombarded relentlessly with political messages, robocalls, knocks at the door, endless campaign literature and ugly ads, citizens are yearning for an end. May it all truly be over next Tuesday night.

For all the talk, though, about how insufferable the electioneering has been, the candidates have gotten the attention, albeit negatively, of the electorate. At business lunches, during hair-stylist appointments, at cocktail parties and the daily exchanges at the bus stops, the latest election tomfoolery is the topic of the day. Conversations about the weather, that perennial conversation fodder, are finally being overtaken by the latest political revelations. For a nation that has long been declared apolitical, we breathlessly keep up with who has hurled what insult at whom and what new leaks the media are revealing. It seems to matter little if the leaks are corroborated or not, and social media, the preferred vehicle for dissemination, does not automatically offer any fact checking. Anyone can get away with saying anything, and the more outrageous and indecent, the greater number of viewers. The gloves of decency and civility are off.

In our presidential election, we are exploring the twists and turns of sexual accusations — out in the open for everyone to see. London’s backbenchers in Parliament pale with their insults compared to us. At least theirs are often witty. Except for Saturday Night Live, there has been little in these last two years of intense campaigning to earn a good laugh.

Has our country demonstrated less bigotry by naming a woman as standard-bearer for one of the two major parties? Or has our obvious double standard become only more painfully obvious, with so many men declaring publicly their unwillingness to ever vote for a woman as leader? The same question, about race rather than gender, was posed eight years ago when we elected the first black president. With painful irony, amidst our self-congratulatory open-mindedness, it seems more racial incidents have played out since that election than when George Wallace stood in the doorway and refused entry to black school children. Will the same ironies ensue in the event of a Clinton victory?

Perhaps it is cleansing to have our faults out in the open — acknowledgement as the first step toward healing. At least there has been no talk about ageism the way there was during the Reagan campaign in 1980. Both candidates today are within a couple of years of each other and of the biblical endpoint of three score and ten. At least that is something to be grateful for.

In this election season, as with every other during which we have been publishing, we have tried hard to remain as neutral as possible and present you, our readers, with the news in a balanced fashion. There are a number of local races, all critically important for their ultimate effects on our daily lives. As we have always done, we have spent hundreds of hours throughout the month of October interviewing candidates for each local office, two-by-two, and we have asked them questions and passed the answers along to you in our election section this week. We have also distilled this information during many more hours of discussion among our editorial board members and offered endorsements on our editorial pages. In no way do we intend this to dictate how you should vote. Rather we are telling you how we will vote after the journalistic privilege of personally questioning the candidates and covering the incumbents throughout their terms.

We owe you, our readers, no less.

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Monday, we will finally get to see, on the same stage, the presidential candidates who hate each other, find each other unqualified, and who long ago seem to have taken the gloves off in their smackdown.

Here are just a few of the questions I’d ask the man and woman who would like to be our president:

• People don’t like either of you, including politicians in Washington. Secretary Clinton, how will you bring together Democrats and Republicans, when your war with so many Republicans dates back to your years as first lady? And, Mr. Trump, notable Democrats and Republicans seem to find your style and policies confounding. How much can you really accomplish without the broad-based support of Republicans?

• Mr. Trump, you suggested that Congress shouldn’t consider President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee and they haven’t. What would you do if you were President Obama and the Senate openly ignored your choice for Supreme Court?

• Mrs. Clinton, there’s a frequent line from courtroom dramas like Law & Order that goes something like this: “You said X when the detectives spoke to you and now you’re saying Y. Which is it? Were you lying then or are you lying now?” People don’t trust you. You don’t seem completely forthcoming, even about your pneumonia, until we see pictures of you stumbling into your SUV. How do we know when you’re sharing the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?

• Mr. Trump, are you going to release your tax returns? The longer you go without sharing them, the more people wonder if you’re hiding something. You believe your opponent selectively discloses details about herself all the time, but you’re not sharing something most, if not all, candidates have shared. What gives?

• Mr. Trump, you have suggested on a few occasions that advocates of the second amendment might have something to say about Hillary Clinton’s position on gun control. You claim that people misinterpret what you say because you didn’t mean what you said when you wrote it. Your rhetoric, were you to be president, would mean something far different from what it does when you’re tweeting. If you were president, would you tamp down the bluster that people might misinterpret? Do you feel you can and should be able to shoot from the hip, as it were, whenever it suits your interests?

• Neither of you seems ready to say the kinds of things we would hope to teach our children, such as “I’m sorry,” or “I was wrong.” Can each of you name a situation or circumstance in public life when you made a mistake and you recognize that you could and should have done better?

• Okay, turning away from each other, what policy do each of you guarantee wouldn’t change one iota and for which you would be inflexible or unwilling to compromise if either of you became president? Candidates often make promises they can’t keep when they’re elected. Is there anything you will pursue in its current form from your platforms?

• You both must recognize that your own rhetoric has alienated voters and raised concerns among various groups about your ability to lead and act on their behalf. Mrs. Clinton, how would you reconcile with Trump’s “deplorables,” as you put it, and Mr. Trump, how would you represent Muslim-Americans, Americans of Mexican heritage or any of the other people you’ve alienated if you became president?

• This campaign seems steeped in negativity. What is the most positive message each of you can share? How would that positive message make people feel better about the election and, down the road, the prospects for themselves and for this country? Be as specific as possible.