An IT scandal involving perhaps dozens of Democrats in Congress is advancing so fast that it can be hard to keep up with the details – especially given that so much of the media is ignoring or downplaying the story.
The story exploded last week when congressional IT staffer Imran Awan was arrested at Dulles International Airport outside Washington as he was about to fly to Pakistan. Awan, who was employed by Rep. Debbie Wasserman Shultz (D-Fla.), was charged with bank fraud and has pleaded not guilty. But the story only begins with alleged bank fraud.
Here are 10 shocking things we know right now about the scandal.
1. Awan was arrested after wiring $283,000 from the Congressional Federal Credit Union to Pakistan. Officials charged him with defrauding the credit union of $165,000 by lying on a home equity loan application.
2. Awan worked as an IT staffer for Wasserman Schultz, who is a former chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee (DNC). Awan’s wife, Hina Alvi – who left for Pakistan earlier this year with their children –was one of several Awan relatives who were on the payroll of Democrats as IT professionals in the House. Together, they were paid about $4 million in taxpayer funds since 2009.
3. Awan is a Pakistani-born U.S. citizen. He had access to emails and files of many Democrats in Congress. He even had the password to the iPad that Wasserman Schultz used for DNC business until she resigned from the DNC in July 2016.
4. In a public hearing in May, Wasserman Schultz actually badgered the chief of the U.S. Capitol Police about computer equipment scooped up in the investigation of Awan and his relatives. The Daily Caller reports that Wasserman Schultz told the chief: “I think you’re violating the rules” for keeping the computer equipment as part of the Awan investigation. She also told the chief to “expect there will be consequences” for “conduct[ing] your business that way.” Still, Wasserman Schultz kept Awan on her staff until he was arrested – even though his access to the congressional computer system was revoked in February.
5. As the news broke of Awan’s arrest, the law firm representing him – Gowen Rhoades Winograd & Silva – criticized his accusers. One statement from the law firm says: “The attacks on Mr. Awan and his family began as part of a frenzy of anti-Muslim bigotry in the literal heart of our democracy, the House of Representatives. For months we have had utterly unsupported, outlandish, and slanderous statements targeting Mr. Awan coming not just from the ultra-right-wing “pizzagate” media but from sitting members of congress. Now we have the Justice Department showing up with a complaint about disclosures on a modest real estate matter.”
6. Wasserman Schultz has been avoiding the media, but her office responded to questions from the media with a statement: “After details of the investigation were reviewed with us, my office was provided no evidence to indicate that laws had been broken, which over time, raised troubling concerns about due process, fair treatment and potential ethnic and religious profiling. Upon learning of his arrest, he was terminated.”
7. Though both Wasserman Schultz and Awan’s attorneys are trying to disparage those chasing this story as being guilty of “anti-Muslim bigotry,” the FBI actually seized smashed hard drives from Awan’s home. Also, investigators say Awan and others might have stolen computer equipment from members’ offices and might have done illegal things on the House IT network.
8. Awan also allegedly funneled sensitive congressional data offsite in what some are calling a massive cyber-security breach.
9. This investigation has been ongoing since last February; however, even before Capitol Police began their investigation of Imran Awan and his relatives – including his brothers Abid and Jamal and their wives – there were a lot of red flags that should have alerted Capitol Police. Jamal Awan, for example, had an annual salary of $157,000, or about three times what the average IT staff member was paid in the House, according to InsideGov. Meanwhile, Abid Awan had a salary of $161,000 and Imran Awan was being paid $165,000.
10. Recently Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.), who is member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, discussed the scandal on “Tucker Carlson Tonight” on Fox News. He asked: “Why were these people paid what they were paid – $4 million over a number of years?” He added that “in my office we spend about $1,500 a month for IT support (from contactors). But then they had access to the files of members of Congress who were serving on key committees.”
DeSantis also said: “Congress needs to know how this happened and what damage has been done. We have a responsibility to protect the House. The possibility that sensitive congressional information was compromised requires Congress to examine this matter.”