Abigail Spanberger hopes to beat Rep. Dave Brat — and stand up for the CIA

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Abigail Spanberger (Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos: Steve Helber/AP, AP)
Abigail Spanberger (Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos: Steve Helber/AP, AP)

The CIA has never been known as a hotbed of “radical left-wing Obama-Clinton Democrat[s]” but Rep. Dave Brat, the Republican incumbent in Virginia’s Seventh Congressional District, thinks he’s found one.

It’s his opponent, Abigail Spanberger, a former CIA officer who is defending America’s intelligence agencies against attacks from President Trump.

Spanberger, who served as an operations officer in the CIA for eight years, primarily in counterterrorism operations, entered the race in part because she saw “partisan politics threatening the country” she worked to protect. She is not pleased with Trump’s repeated efforts to disparage the intelligence community’s consensus that Russia had launched a multifaceted campaign to disrupt American democracy.

“I think it is detrimental to our national security that we have an administration that is so willing to wholly discount the information provided by the intelligence community,” Spanberger told Yahoo News. “Members of the intelligence community work very, very hard to collect valuable information, distill that information and provide it to the administration to enable them to make really good decisions about policy initiatives, about engagement with foreign countries and about our own national security.”

Even many of Trump’s Republican allies took issue with the president when he sided with Russian President Vladimir Putin over his own intelligence agencies.

“The fact that our president would at times seemingly take the side of foreign adversaries over the well-sourced intelligence of the intelligence community is troubling as an American — not just as a former intelligence officer,” Spanberger said.

President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin arrive for a meeting in Helsinki on July 16, 2018. (Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)
President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin arrive for a meeting in Helsinki on July 16, 2018. (Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)

Brat, a Tea Party-backed conservative who upset House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in the 2014 primary, is a strong Trump supporter and has been endorsed by the president.

A GOP-led House investigation did not support the intelligence community’s conclusion that Moscow interfered with the 2016 presidential election to help Trump win. The entire process was rancorous, and Democrats on the intelligence committee objected to the report — accusing Republicans of playing “defense counsel” for the White House.

Spanberger wants Congress to take a stronger stand on the issue. “We need a Congress that’s willing to say, ‘Yes, this happened. This doesn’t need to be a relitigation of 2016 but we need to understand the threat that we as a nation face because it’s a threat we continue to face,’” she said.

Brat has also spoken out about it, but he blamed former President Barack Obama.

“The United States should stand unequivocally opposed to a foreign government meddling in our elections in any form or fashion,” he tweeted. “Unfortunately, for eight years the Obama Administration operated as if Russia was not a major geopolitical threat. Their foreign policy failures emboldened Putin to take aggressive actions around the World and set the stage for where we are today.”

Spanberger also criticizes the administration’s stance on North Korea and its leader, Kim Jong Un, who met with Trump in Singapore in June. The rapid acceleration of North Korea’s missile and nuclear weapon technology has been a cause of unrest and instability in East Asia. Some of America’s closest allies in the region have needed to reassess their defense programs. Nevertheless, Trump said he and Kim “fell in love.”

“I think any time we see the president of the United States warmly greeting an authoritarian leader and later professing to have fallen in love with him, no matter how tongue-in-cheek those comments are, is deeply concerning,” she said.

Abigail Spanberger speaks during an interview in Henrico, Va., in September. (Photo: Carlos Bernate/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
Abigail Spanberger speaks during an interview in Henrico, Va., in September. (Photo: Carlos Bernate/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Spanberger was a federal law enforcement officer who worked on drug and money laundering cases for the U.S. Postal Inspection Service before joining the CIA. She’s one of many midterm candidates with national security experience. Brat was a professor of economics at Randolph-Mason College before entering politics.

When asked about the CIA’s leadership, Spanberger was quick to point out that she could only answer as a U.S. citizen, separate from her experience at the agency. She said it looks like CIA Director Gina Haspel is “doing a good job,” and that her predecessor, Secretary of State and Tea Party Republican Mike Pompeo, was too susceptible to political interference.

“I never felt, as a former intelligence officer, that he understood the real value of the intelligence community and the purpose of intelligence. His willingness to let the administration politicize the intelligence community was concerning to me,” Spanberger said.

Spanberger said her decision to run for Congress came the day of the House’s health care vote, when she felt Brat wasn’t listening to his constituents.

The Seventh Congressional District, which stretches from the suburbs west of Richmond to the countryside of central Virginia, is less heavily Republican than it was in previous election cycles because forced redistricting in 2016 changed its boundaries. This — together with Spanberger’s career in law enforcement and intelligence, which may appeal to more conservative voters — gives Democrats hope they can flip this seat.

Following GOP national strategy, Brat has tried to portray Spanberger in interviews, social media posts and campaign ads as a far-left zealot. He accused her of supporting open borders, sanctuary cities, abolishing ICE, reelecting Nancy Pelosi as House speaker, and a government-run single-payer health care system. Spanberger says she would not support Pelosi for speaker and doesn’t hold the other positions Brat attributes to her. Brat’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment from Yahoo News.

“Essentially, any statement he has made about me is almost likely to be untrue. He has lied about my policy stances time and time again. He has misrepresented my overall intentions and my political priorities,” Spanberger said.

The Cook Political Report considers the race a toss-up at this point.

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