By now most Americans have heard about the spy scandal involving Eric Swalwell, a California Congressman who has served on the House Intelligence Committee since 2014.
This scandal involves a Chinese spy named Fang Fang (aka Christine Fang) who posed as a student in the San Francisco area and raised money for Swalwell’s first campaign for Congress, was placed as an intern in his Washington office and had a personal, possibly romantic, relationship with him.
The FBI became so concerned about Swalwell’s ties to Fang that they gave him a “defensive briefing” on her in 2015. Shortly thereafter, Fang fled the U.S. for China after she learned she was being investigated by the FBI.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Swalwell have tried to downplay this story. Swalwell says it happened many years ago and he severed all ties to Fang in 2015 after the FBI briefing.
Pelosi expressed full confidence in Swalwell and claimed there is nothing to this story because Democratic and Republican leaders were briefed on it in 2015. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy disputes this and wants to FBI to brief Congress on this case.
As I told Elizabeth MacDonald on the Fox Business Channel Thursday night, this scandal raises two serious national security questions that Pelosi must answer.
First, what exactly were House Democratic and Republican leaders told about the Swalwell scandal in 2015?
It is impossible to believe Republican leaders would have remained silent about this scandal if they knew the recently-released explosive details, especially that Swalwell may have been romantically involved with Fang.
My guess is that either the FBI withheld the more shocking details or did not know them at the time.
This raises some related troubling issues. Did the FBI, under its partisan former director James Comey, withhold key parts of this scandal from Republican House members? And, if Pelosi has long known the lurid details of the Swalwell scandal, why did she not remove him from the House Intelligence Committee?
The second major question is: will Nancy Pelosi agree that it is time for House members who want access to classified information undergo FBI background checks?
I held high-level security clearances in positions on the House Intelligence Committee staff and with the CIA. I had to submit to FBI background investigations for both jobs that involved a careful review of my travel, people I have interacted with and my finances. At CIA, I also had to submit to polygraphs and drug tests to maintain my security clearances.
Members of Congress — even members of the intelligence committees — undergo none of this to access highly classified information. They get this access by virtue of their elected office.
The FBI is not allowed to vet members of Congress to ensure they have not been compromised by hostile intelligence service before they are granted access to America’s most sensitive national security secrets.
If an FBI background check had been done on Congressman Swalwell before he was appointed to the House Intelligence Committee, his relationship with Fang probably would have been uncovered.
Given how easily this Chinese spy developed a relationship with the Congressman and the large number of intelligence agents from China and other countries operating in the United States, it’s fair to assume that hostile intelligence services have forged similar relationships with other members of Congress.
Many members of Congress will balk at the idea that they submit to FBI background investigations as a violation of the Constitution’s separation of powers.
I don’t view this as a valid argument because congressional staff members are already vetted by the FBI. But this problem could be overcome by empowering the Capitol Hill Police, which is part of the U.S. Congress, to conduct such investigations.
The Swalwell affair is the latest symptom of the refusal of House Democratic leaders to honor their responsibility to protect highly classified national security information.
Aside from the flood of leaks from the House Intelligence Committee by its Democratic members over the past four years, Pelosi clearly has failed in this responsibility by not kicking Swalwell off the intelligence committee when she first learned of this scandal and for failing to use her power to appoint committee members to exclude Congressmen who pose security risks.
In addition to finding out the full details of the Swalwell case — including what Pelosi and Comey knew and when they know it — it is also is crucial that Republican House members insist that significant changes be made to protect national security information released to the House.
At a minimum, this must include background investigations of any House member who has or hopes to get access to this sensitive information.