House Intelligence Committee Corrects the Record About False, Dangerous and Defamatory Attacks Against Staff
Washington, January 3, 2021
Over the last four years, staff of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence have been the subject of malicious lies aimed at undermining the Committee and its oversight of the executive branch. Committee staff have been falsely accused of leaking classified information, undermining our national security, conspiratorial impropriety, and, most disturbingly, crimes and treason. Members of the House of Representatives and the Senate, and even the President himself, have repeated and promoted these false claims, which have been further amplified by conservative media outlets, circulated on social media, repeated in books, and aired on conspiracy-minded podcasts—all as part of a broader campaign of misinformation aimed at undermining the American people’s confidence in their government and in public servants. As a result, Committee staff have faced credible online and physical threats, some of which required referral to law enforcement.
As the 116th Congress ends and as our country strives to reestablish basic norms and decency, the Committee is compelled to issue this statement to correct the record about certain events and to reaffirm its support for its staff, all of whom are honorable public servants of the highest integrity. Often, false allegations about the staff were reprinted and amplified without any effort at fact-checking or request for comment from the Committee. While the Committee cannot address every falsehood, the dangerous nature of the most egregious claims requires clear and definitive refutation.
During the height of the impeachment inquiry, numerous conservative outlets sought to insinuate conspiratorial wrongdoing by Professional Staff Member Thomas Eager, because he happened to visit Ukraine in August 2019 as part of a bipartisan congressional fellowship organized by the Atlantic Council, a well-respected nonpartisan think tank that has worked for nearly sixty years to enhance and strengthen the transatlantic alliance. Eager joined numerous House and Senate staff for this the bipartisan, bicameral congressional staff trip, which was unrelated to and predated the House of Representatives’ impeachment inquiry. Contrary to assertions in conservative outlets, Eager applied for and was accepted in January 2019 to join the fellowship, which culminated in a study trip to Ukraine. While in Ukraine, Eager exclusively followed the program of the organizers and did not undertake any work on behalf of the Committee or take additional meetings of any sort. Eager, moreover, did not participate in the Committee’s impeachment-related activities and work.
Since joining the Committee, Professional Staff Member Abigail Grace has been the subject of false attacks and smears, including presidential tweets as false claims intensified during the impeachment inquiry, which she was not a part of. She had no prior knowledge of events related to Ukraine and did not meet with or provide guidance to the unknown Ukraine whistleblower. Grace is a well-regarded national security professional with a distinguished record of service under both Democratic and Republican administrations. She is considered a leading expert on China and Asia, and served as the lead author of the Committee’s “deep dive” report on China, which includes significant findings and recommendations about the Intelligence Community’s ability to address challenges posed by China.
Professional Staff Member Sean Misko, a respected national security professional with a distinguished record of nonpartisan service under every Democratic and Republican administration since 2005, has been the target of a sustained smear campaign that has no basis in facts or reality. The attacks by elected officials on Misko, as well as the allegations published by the Washington Examiner, RealClearInvestigations, and Breitbart (among other conservative outlets) are all false. The Committee said so at the time, on-the-record, and is saying so again now. The unremarkable fact is that in May 2019, Misko was offered and accepted a job with the Committee focused on issues related to the Middle East, and he formally joined the Committee staff in July 2019 after fulfilling his responsibilities as part of the U.S. government team working to end the Afghanistan War. Misko had no prior knowledge of events related to Ukraine. Moreover, Misko never met with or provided guidance to any whistleblowers regarding complaints they wished to file, including the anonymous Ukraine whistleblower. Additionally, Misko was not assigned to work on and did no work related to what became the Ukraine impeachment inquiry until late September 2019, after the Committees on Intelligence, Foreign Affairs, and Oversight and Reform announced a joint investigation and after the Ukraine whistleblower complaint was publicly released for the world to read. Misko, who has been involved in some of our nation’s most sensitive diplomatic efforts over the past decade, continues to conduct classified oversight work for the Committee on the Middle East and other topics.
During the Committee’s Russia investigation during the 115th Congress, then-Professional Staff Member Rheanne Wirkkala served as a lead staff member responsible for the Committee’s investigation into Donald Trump and his campaign’s numerous improper contacts with Russia during the 2016 presidential campaign. Since that investigation ended, Republican Members of Congress and conservative media outlets have insisted that the Committee and its staff sought “nude photos” of the president. The reality is much more mundane. The Committee informed appropriate law enforcement and security personnel ahead of a call with those suspected of seeking to prank the Committee, and followed law enforcement directions in the engagement. Wirkkala now serves as the Committee’s Director of Investigations.
Finally, and although it should not need to be said, the conspiracy theory that the unknown Ukraine whistleblower “colluded” with Committee staff to “hatch an impeachment” or “coup” against the President is totally baseless and false, as is the equally fanciful claim that Grace, Misko, or any other Committee staff plotted with other U.S. officials to “take out” the President.
Our staff were hired by the Committee for no other reason than their national security expertise and commitment to doing good for the country. They are not members of an imaginary “deep state,” but instead are patriots and professionals. Their work, often conducted out of public view, is not in service of any partisan agenda. It has and always will be in service of the Committee’s longstanding, bipartisan mission to conduct rigorous oversight of our Intelligence Community aimed at strengthening our national security, preventing abuses of power, and protecting the privacy and civil liberties of all Americans.