Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) said in an August 3 interview with her hometown newspaper that a laptop computer -- which she closely drilled the chief of the Capitol Police earlier this year -- was not hers, but actually belonged to her former IT assistant Imran Awan. She also claimed that investigators are targeting Awan because of his race and religion. Awan is a Muslim from Pakistan who is a naturalized American citizen.
During the exchange with Chief Matthew R. Verderosa in a House Appropriations subcommittee hearing on May 18, Wasserman Schultz said during an annual police budget hearing, “If a Member loses equipment and it is found by your staff and identified as that member’s equipment and the member is not associated with any case, it is supposed to be returned. Yes or no?” Verderosa replied that the laptop is important to “an ongoing investigation,” but Wasserman Schultz pressed on regardless.
“My understanding is the the Capitol Police is not able to confiscate Members’ equipment when the Member is not under investigation.” Wasserman Schultz said. “We can’t return the equipment,” Chief Verderosa replied. “If a Member loses equipment and it is found by your staff and identified as that member’s equipment and the member is not associated with any case, it is supposed to be returned. Yes or no?” Wasserman Schultz said. Verderosa replied that the laptop is important to “an ongoing investigation,” but Wasserman Schultz pressed for it nevertheless. “I think you’re violating the rules when you conduct your business that way and you should expect that there will be consequences,” Wasserman Schultz said.
Not my laptop
However, in the August 3 interview with the Sun-Sentinel, Wasserman Schultz said she had concerns over the investigation, prompting the grilling of the police chief. Now she said that the disputed laptop was issued by her office to Imran Awan, an IT specialist and naturalized U.S. citizen from Pakistan, who was arrested at a DC airport just before boarding a flight to his native country. He is charged in a federal court on bank fraud charges. He and his family members, including his wife, are being investigated for possibly criminal behavior while providing IT services to more than 20 House Democrats, including those on the House Intelligence Committee.
In the newspaper interview, Wasserman Schultz said of Imran Awan and the laptop, “He accidentally left it somewhere.” She said that she reported the loss to Capitol Police, who also recovered it. The police then wanted to examine its contents. Since then, she has agreed to allow the police to examine the laptop. Claiming now that the laptop is not hers, even though it was issued by her office, she said, “This was not my laptop. I have never seen that laptop. I don’t know what’s on the laptop.”
Wasserman Schultz said because her concern over the nature of the investigation, she was prompted to warn the police chief at the hearing about possible consequences. “I was trying to get more information I wanted to make sure they were following the rules.”
Awan stays on Congressional payroll
Imran Awan was flying to Pakistan to join his wife and children. However, he was arrested on bank fraud charges at Dulles International Airport outside of Washington DC before he boarded his flight. In addition, since February, he and his two brothers, wife, and a friend, have been under investigation by federal authorities, who alleged they stole “equipment from [Congress] members’ offices without their knowledge and committing serious, potentially illegal, violations on the House IT network.” All of the Democrats who employed the Awans, with the exception of Wasserman Schultz, fired them soon after the accusations emerged. Wasserman Schultz kept Awan on the federal payroll until the day after his arrest.
Bill Clinton and Imran Awan
Race and ethnic profiling
In the newspaper interview, Wasserman Schultz appeared to indicate that government investigators are targeting Awan because of his religion and ethnicity. In an interview with the Sun-Sentinel, Wasserman Schultz -- who chaired the Democratic National Committee until ousted in the midst of the 2016 campaign season -- said, “I had grave concerns about his due-process rights being violated.” She added, “When their investigation was reviewed with me, I was presented with no evidence of anything that they were being investigated for. And so that, in me, gave me great concern that his due process rights were being violated. That there were racial and ethnic profiling concerns that I had.” Furthermore, she opined that Awan was not fleeing the country, even though his wife was already in Pakistan.
“It would have been easier for me to just fire him,” said the prominent Democrat to the Sun Sentinel. Wasserman Schultz kept Awan on her payroll, at taxpayer expense, for six months after he was banned from the House of Representatives’ network.
An FBI affidavit shows that Awan’s wife, Hina Alvi, left the United States along with a great deal of cash in March of this year. The couple had wired $283,000 to Pakistan in January, the affidavit said. The wire transfer included $165,000 from the home equity line of credit that Awan obtained from a local credit union.
According to the affidavit:
“ALVI had numerous pieces of luggage with her, including cardboard boxes. A secondary search of those items revealed that the boxes contained household goods, clothing, and food items. U.S. Customs and Border Protection conducted a search of ALVI’s bags immediately prior to her boarding the plane and located a total of $12,400.00 in U.S. cash inside. ALVI was permitted to board the flight to Qatar and she and her daughters have not returned to the United States. ALVI has a return flight booked for a date in September 2017. Based on your Affiant’s observations at Dulles Airport, and upon his experience and training, your Affiant does not believe that ALVI has any intention to return to the United States.”
Wasserman Schultz told the newspaper that instead of firing Awan, her office worked with the House chief administrative officer to provide a job that “would allow him to continue to do work … until such time as there were other charges brought or we had some evidence that there was something that was produced that warranted further action.” Awan and his family members had already earned over a million dollars for their IT work. Wasserman Schultz said that, because Awan had a round-trip ticket and had visited Pakistan before, she believes that Awan was not a flight risk.
Even without access to the IT network, Wasserman Schultz said, “there are plenty of technological issues that an IT person can assist with. He didn’t have access to the network, but he was able to give us guidance and advice and troubleshoot on a wide variety of other technological issues.” She said that IT work is not limited to computer network issues, but includes website, printers, phones, and software. Even though she knew that Awan and his family members were cut off from the House IT network because of “procurement violations and data transfer violations,” Wasserman Schultz did not believe their data transfer issue did not involve anything sinister. However, she said that Awan was “transferring data outside the secure network, which I think amounted to use of apps that the House didn’t find compliant with our security requirements.”
Wasserman Schultz claims that Awan did not have access to any classified information. However, Awan did work for Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee.
Republicans and Democrats question Wasserman Schultz
Republicans have questioned Wasserman Schultz’s handling of the Awan affair. For example, GOP Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel said in a recent radio interview, “There is a huge national security issue.” McDaniel said, “She’s not cooperating. She’s obstructing every chance she can.”
But Wasserman Schultz said much of the coverage of the case is “completely untrue,” blaming “the right-wing media circus fringe” for jumping to “outrageous, egregious conclusions” that Awan and his confreres are tied to terrorists and stole data. Moreover, she ridiculed suggestions that Awan was seeking to flee the country to Pakistan, which has an intelligence service that is hostile to the United States, harbors terrorists, and has nuclear weapons. For Wasserman Schultz, the media focus on Awan is an effort to draw attention away from the various investigations into supposed connections between Russia and Donald Trump’s election campaign officials.
Wasserman Schultz is facing a primary challenger to her 2018 re-election bid in law professor Tim Canova. On Fox News, Canova told news host Steve Doocy that Wasserman Schultz’s behavior is “disappointing” and shows a failure of judgement.