RICHMOND — More than a week before an ex-CIA agent who is running as a Democrat for Congress unmasked a mole inside her campaign, a Virginia Republican Party official tweeted that the conservative Project Veritas had planted spy there.

“Can the spy ... detect a spy?” Mark Hile, a member of the GOP’s governing board, said in an Oct. 22 tweet .

More than a dozen similar tweets followed, suggesting an “undercover reporter” had infiltrated the campaign of Abigail Spanberger, who is challenging Rep. Dave Brat in Virginia’s 7th Congressional District. Hile repeatedly mentioned Project Veritas, a New York-based group known for undercover “sting” videos.

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“Is @JamesOKeefeIII of @Project_Veritas going to show up today to ask Team @SpanbergerVA07 about the undercover video they have of them lying about her being a moderate?” Hile wrote Wednesday morning. That afternoon, he tweeted about a Project Veritas expose targeting a Florida Democrat and wrote, “Virginia 7th District will be next. Heads up Team @SpanbergerVA07!”

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Later that afternoon, Spanberger’s team confronted a young woman who had been posing as a campaign volunteer but had been trying to collect embarrassing information for Project Veritas. The organization’s founder, James O’Keefe, released two videos shot surreptitiously from inside Spanberger headquarters.

The timing raised suspicions among Democrats that Hile had prior knowledge of the scheme – a potentially scandalous transgression for someone in a party leadership position. Hile’s wife, Anita Hile, is a vice chairwoman of the Henrico County Republican Committee.

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But Hile said he merely made a lucky guess that Project Veritas, which has been targeting Democrats running in midterms across the country, would eventually focus on Spanberger.

“In essence I hit the Twitter jackpot by re-tweeting Project Veritas tweets and adding comments of my own and tagging the Spanberger campaign hoping to ignite their imaginations,” he said in an email to The Washington Post Thursday.

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“While I was hoping that Project Veritas would investigate the Spanberger campaign, I had no prior knowledge that they actually were.,” Hile wrote. “Had I known that Project Veritas did have an undercover reporter in the Spanberger campaign, I would never tweeted anything about it, so as not to potentially bring attention to the undercover reporter gathering information about the deception that has been uncovered across the country in different campaigns.”

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He said would not comment further because after his tweets drew notice, he became a target on social media, with someone posting a photo of his house.

Asked if Hile had been in on the sting, O’Keefe said in an email: “[W]e don’t work with or coordinate, but only investigate candidates with our videos.”

The two videos he released — shot by Marisa Jorge, a New Yorker posing as a Henrico County volunteer — failed to capture any “gotcha” moments. It “revealed” information that was publicly available.

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Brat’s campaign has said it had no involvement in or prior knowledge of the sting.

Spanberger campaign spokesman Justin Jones declined to comment. Jake Rubenstein, spokesman for the Democratic Party of Virginia, criticized Hile for promoting Project Veritas’s stings on Twitter, regardless of whether he had any inside knowledge.

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“Given the desperate state of Dave Brat’s re-election campaign, it comes as no surprise that a member of the Henrico GOP would promote unsavory organizations like Project Veritas and their potentially criminal tactics,” Rubenstein said.

Project Veritas, an organization that targets the mainstream news media and left-leaning groups, uses false cover stories and highly edited covert video recordings meant to be used in exposés. Last year, a woman who worked for Project Veritas falsely claimed to The Washington Post that Roy Moore, then the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in Alabama, impregnated her as a teenager — an apparent effort to trick The Post into publishing an untrue story.

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O’Keefe was convicted of a misdemeanor in 2010 for using a fake identity to enter a federal building during a previous sting.

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Spanberger and Brat are locked in a tight race in the district, a onetime GOP stronghold that appears to be up for grabs in the Trump era. The 7th is a mix of Richmond suburbs and rural areas stretching from Culpeper County in the north to Nottoway County in the south. Trump, who has endorsed Brat, is popular in the rural areas but has energized Democratic opposition in the suburbs.

The latest poll shows Brat — a former economics professor who won the seat four years ago after a shocking primary upset over then-House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R) — virtually tied with Spanberger, a former CIA agent and federal law enforcement officer.

Brat cruised to a 15-point reelection win two years ago but faces a strong challenger in Spanberger, whose résumé may appeal to swing voters and moderate Republicans.

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