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Jun 15, 2016 12:10 AM

Ayotte emphasizes closing intelligence gaps, battling terrorism, not stricter gun laws

NH1 News Political Director

CONCORD – Kelly Ayotte says in the wake of the worst mass murder in U.S. history, “what’s most important as we look at what’s happened in this horrific terrorist attack is that we work together to look at the gaps in our intelligence system.”

And in an interview with NH1 News on Tuesday, two days after the horrific attacks, New Hampshire’s Republican U.S. Senator also said the emphasis needs to be on terrorism rather than gun control, adding that “we need to take the fight to ISIS.”

And Ayotte distanced herself from remarks made yesterday by Donald Trump, where the presumptive GOP presidential nominee re-emphasized his proposal to temporarily ban Muslims from entering the United States.

Asked by NH1 News what lawmakers can do in the wake of the attacks, that left 49 dead and 53 injured, Ayotte said “I think priority number one addressing any gaps in our intelligence system, whether from the FBI, the local police, and also other intelligence agencies to make sure that we have a full picture to prevent these kind of attacks in the future.”

“The FBI interviewed this individual but closed the investigation. And so we need to fully understand should that investigation have been closed. Why was it closed? Was there additional follow up that should have been done? Also what was communicated to local law enforcement so they were aware of this individual,” Ayotte asked.

Ayotte, the first-term Republican senator who’s running for re-election this year, is facing a Democratic challenge by Gov. Maggie Hassan. The race is one of the most high profile, expensive and negative Senate showdowns in the country.

In an interview with NH1 News earlier on Tuesday, Hassan criticized her rival, saying “I am very disappointed that the Senate, including Sen. Ayotte, who had a chance to close a critical loophole, that might have prevented him from getting this gun, they failed to do that in December. I hope very much that they take up a measure that would say people who are known or suspected terrorists in the United States of America can’t buy this kind of weapon that causes mass causalities.”

Last December Ayotte voted against a Democratic amendment that would have allowed the federal government to ban the sale of firearms to anyone on the terrorist watch list. At the time, Ayotte’s office told NH1 News that she opposed the amendment, put forward by Democratic Sen. Diane Feinstein, because it didn’t provide enough “due process” for those who felt they were wrongly put on the terrorist watch list.

Instead Ayotte voted with fellow Republicans for an alternative measure sponsored by GOP Sen. John Cornyn which Republicans said would allow for “due process.”

On Tuesday Ayotte told NH1 News “I voted for a bill that would allow to make sure that those on the terror watch list don’t have access to guns. And it also had due process protections in place for Americans. So I think we should stop the political football on this and resolve this issue. But it’s really important that people understand that this individual unfortunately was not on the terror watch list at the time he purchased these firearms. So we need to get to the bottom of why the FBI closed the investigation.”

Ayotte also highlighted that “I previously supported improving our background check system. Making sure there’s increased prosecutions and getting the mental health records in.”

In the spring of 2013, Ayotte voted against a bipartisan bill on background checks, but did vote in favor of a Republican sponsored alternative measure.

But Ayotte told NH1 News that “we need to understand this is about terrorism. And if gun control was going to resolve this we wouldn’t have what happened in Paris. They have some of the strongest laws in the world. Terrorists are going to find an instrument and we better make sure that we have the right intelligence system in place so that we’re getting the information, that we have the follow up from law enforcement rather than the closed investigation that we saw here. We need to understand why that happened.”

On Monday, during a speech in New Hampshire, Trump said that I will suspend immigration from areas of the world when there is a proven history of terrorism against the United States, Europe or our allies, until we fully understand how to end these threats.”

Ayotte, who’s kept her distance from Trump, told NH1 News “I think that we should not have a religious based test. So it’s not clear if he’s reiterating that position. But I haven’t agreed with him on that. I think that in terms of who’s admitted to this country it has to be based on facts and evidence, whether they have particular ties to terrorism.”

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