Washington Post: Rep. Abigail Spanberger, a former CIA undercover officer, says ‘acting’ officials are part of the problem


Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.), a freshman congresswoman from a previously Republican district and a former CIA undercover officer, was among the seven moderate-to-conservative Democrats who co-authored an op-ed for The Post urging the House to move toward an impeachment investigation. That was before the transcript of President Trump’s July 25 call with the Ukrainian president and the whistleblower’s complaint had been released.

“At that point in time, we knew there was a complaint and [the director of national intelligence] wouldn’t let it get to Congress,” she told me in a phone interview Friday morning. Spanberger doesn’t think her particular background in the CIA played any role other than to see that serious national security interests were in play.

She describes her initial reaction as “profound worry,” given that there was a detailed set of credible allegations and an array of possible witnesses. She quickly concluded, “Everything needed to be investigated.” She is not in the camp that thinks there is enough evidence to proceed to impeachment right now. She analogizes to a trial: Why not get all the information out there to present the strongest possible case? As for reported efforts to conceal the transcript, Spanberger does not have direct experience with handing records of these kind of calls. “But I think anytime you see evidence [handled this way], there are questions as to why.”

She was not pleased to see the New York Times identify the whistleblower as a CIA employee assigned to the White House. “Whistleblowers of whatever category [of employee] deserve anonymity. I think it is deeply concerning.” Even more alarming were the president’s remarks likening the whistleblower and/or those who gave him or her information to a “spy” who in the old days would have been executed. “A president of the United States talking about executing someone who is raising alarm about potential lawbreaking is shocking, irreverent, flippant and unpresidential,” she says.

Republicans are not yet stepping forward to support impeachment, although Spanberger is hopeful. “We have allegations that are really specific and stand alone. I think my colleagues are viewing them responsibly. My expectation is we may see people [on the Republican side] step forward.” Back home in her conservative-leaning district, opinion is “divided,” she says. She is certain to hear more as she returns to the district during the recess. Right now, she says, “I am getting feedback saying they respect the way I have handled it but that they aren’t ready to jump one way or another.” For lawmakers from such districts and for Americans more generally, the severity of the facts and the way Congress responds will make a great deal of difference in their attitude on impeachment. Democrats anxious to move to impeachment right away, bypassing any further fact-finding, should take note.

I asked whether the acting director of national intelligence should have gone to the White House and the Justice Department for permission to release a complaint — a complaint in which White House and Justice employees had been named — for permission to release it to Congress. She responds with obvious exasperation. “Do I have a problem with DNI not following the law and going immediately to Congress but going to those implicated? Yes.” There were people in the administration willing to ensure the truth came out but also plenty of enablers and passive observers. She tells me, “There are members of government service who will always endeavor to raise and protect the truth.” She hopes that as facts come out, others will step forward as well.

Finally, Spanberger identified the number of “acting” officials — including an acting director of national intelligence — as part of the problem with this administration. “The Constitution clearly outlines checks and balances. The Senate is supposed to have a check on who is in the administration,” she says. “The number of acting agency heads and other officials is incredibly concerning.” She says it is a way of avoiding a process in which another branch can assess competence, ethics and experience.

Spanberger is among the most sober and careful members of Congress, not given to partisanship or excited rhetoric. She’s from a district that elected Trump by about a five-point margin in 2016 so she is a good barometer of where moderate Democrats and right-of-center voters stand. If she is taken aback by the seriousness of the charges and the implications for American democracy, it is a positive sign that voters such as her constituents may be further along on the necessity of removing this president than polls previously showed. Facts really do matter.

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