The law enforcement arm of the U.S. Postal Service says it has "no record" of anyone officially requesting Virginia Democrat Abigail Spanberger's official personnel file, despite the 2018 congressional candidate claiming a researcher working on behalf of her campaign submitted the request in December 2017.
Spanberger, an ex-CIA officer who is challenging incumbent Republican Rep. Dave Brat in Virginia's 7th District, and her allies have suggested that the improper release of her unredacted security clearance questionnaire from the USPS was part of a GOP-led effort to hurt her campaign, CNN reported Friday. Spanberger and her allies have also suggested that the United States Postal Inspection Service, where she worked prior to joining the CIA, mishandled her own campaign's request for the same information.
America Rising, a Republican research firm, obtained a copy of Spanberger's questionnaire from the USPS through a Freedom of Information Act request. The file included sensitive information, such as her social security number.
The Postal Service said that releasing Spanberger's file without her authorization was a mistake, calling it "human error."
Still, Spanberger's campaign and other Democrats insinuated that the release was politically motivated.
"There's no legal way they could have gotten this fully unredacted SF-86," Spanberger told the New York Times last month. "And the next question, what does it mean they are actually pushing it around? What do I have to hide? Absolutely nothing."
The Times also reported that Rep. Ben Ray Lujan (N.M.), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said of the release: "This is an official government document that only President Trump's administration should have in its possession in its unredacted form." He added that Democrats are not accusing Republicans of wrongdoing, saying, "We have no reason to believe that Republican groups have illegally obtained any of your [Spanberger's] personnel files."
Obama White House aide Ned Price suggested that it could be an act of "political vengeance" by the Trump administration, the Washington Post reported.
In its statement calling the release a mistake, the Postal Service added that "a small number of additional requests for information from personnel files were improperly processed."
Spanberger's campaign said the researcher working on its behalf, Chris Allen, submitted a FOIA request for the candidate's personnel file to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service back in December, but received no response. The campaign suggested that the USPIS was to blame.
CNN filed its own FOIA request, however, to determine how the USPIS handled Spanberger's own inquiry. CNN found that the USPIS has no record of receiving the researcher's request.
"The USPIS' response to CNN's KFile's request said that a search for records of requests related to Spanberger conducted at National Headquarters ‘disclosed no records of FOIA requests related to Abigail Spanberger between December 1, 2017 and August 1, 2018," CNN reported.
"We don't know why the Postal Service has no record of the FOIA request filed by the researcher we hired, just as we don't know why the Postal Service released Abigail's full, unredacted National Security Questionnaire (SF86) in response to America Rising's FOIA and in violation of federal law, the Privacy Act," Dana Bye, Spanberger's campaign manager, told CNN in a statement. "It is clear the system has failed in multiple ways that are disappointing for Abigail, just as they would be disappointing for any federal employee or military member who believed their information would be protected."
Spanberger's file revealed that she had worked at the Islamic Saudi Academy in Northern Virginia, information that was omitted from her biography and background on her campaign website.
The Islamic Saudi Academy, a private school supported by the Saudi government, has drawn bipartisan condemnation. Ahmed Omar Abu Ali, a former valedictorian at the academy, was later sentenced to 30 years in prison for providing support to al Qaeda and plotting to assassinate then-President George W. Bush. Other alumni have been blocked from traveling because of suspicions that they intended to carry out suicide attacks. In 2005, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) expressed alarm at the possibility that the school was producing domestic terrorists. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has urged the State Department to shut down the school.
Republican groups have attacked Spanberger for her ties to the academy. The Congressional Leadership Fund targeted the candidate's connection to the school in a recent ad.