Last week, Democratic IT staffer Imran Awan was arrested for alleged bank fraud. In and of itself, that news would rate as a relatively minor political scandal.
But Awan worked for Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who inspires some of the weirdest conspiracy theories on Capitol Hill. Her disastrous stint as Democratic National Committee chair has turned the centrist South Florida congresswoman into a punching bag for the left, which accuses her of "rigging" the 2016 election for Hillary Clinton, and the far right, which has spent 2017 accusing her of murdering one of her own staffers.
Now the Awan scandal is shaping up to be a classic Wasserman Schultz snafu. While Awan was involved in a litany of shady business dealings, the congresswoman has made the case 1,000 percent worse for herself by refusing to talk to reporters and openly feuding with police. A conservative ethics group is now calling for a full probe. According to Politico, U.S. Rep. Robert Wexler first hired Imran Awan in 2004.
Unfortunately, much of the reporting on the case so far has come from Tucker Carlson's Daily Caller, which is well known for pushing bogus stories about climate change and spewing fact-free nonsense. According to the Daily Caller's Luke Rosiak, House staffers continued paying the family despite a series of red flags and security issues that likely should have been addressed long before 2017.
Earlier this year, the U.S. Capitol Police revealed they are investigating the Awans for alleged data and equipment theft, but no one knows yet what might have been stolen; charges haven't been filed in that case. But once news of that investigation broke, every Democratic office — except Wasserman Schultz's — fired the Awans. Wasserman Schultz continued funneling money to Imran Awan.
The Daily Caller has reported that Imran began liquidating his assets and trying to sell his properties. Then, last week, he was caught at Washington Dulles International Airport trying to leave the country. He was arrested on bank fraud charges, a case that's apparently separate from the ongoing Capitol Police probe.
All of this paints an extremely confusing picture that isn't helped by Rosiak's stories, which are full of speculation and hearsay. The Daily Caller has speculated that the Awans could have been involved in a thousand scams, including stealing money from the government, data from Homeland Security, or emails from the Democratic National Committee. (Rosiak's stories also consistently mention the Awans are Pakistani Muslims, which seems irrelevant.)
Wasserman Schultz's involvement has led right-wing pundits, including Fox News ham-brains Sean Hannity and Geraldo Rivera, to baselessly speculate that the Awans were behind the WikiLeaks hack that forced Wasserman Schultz to step down as Democratic National Committee chair last year:
For Fox figureheads, the story has provided a convenient distraction to suck time away from addressing the crippling failure that has been the Trump White House. But flaws aside, Rosiak's reporting has uncovered some genuinely troubling details.
Here's a breakdown of the biggest unanswered questions about Wasserman Schultz and the Awan scandal:
1. How many Democratic lawmakers are involved?
According to Rosiak, the family members worked for at least 80 House Democrats in their decade-plus on the Hill. Though Wasserman Schultz is certainly the highest-profile House member ensnared in the scandal and did herself no favors by keeping Awan on her payroll long after everyone else canned him, she's far from the only lawmaker who could have been the target of data theft or, as Rosiak claimed in a later story, blackmail. The Daily Caller released a handy chart showing how many other Democrats were tied to the Awans: The list includes South Florida's Ted Deutch and Frederica Wilson, and Lois Frankel.
2. What is the actual extent of the Awans' alleged data theft?
Here's where things also get muddy. So far, there's no indication as to what the Awans might have downloaded from Democratic networks. According to Rosiak, the Awans might have been funneling someone's data to an offsite server, but the public still has no clue who might have been victimized. BuzzFeed News reported that after six months, charges still have not been filed against the family.
3. Why did Wasserman Schultz refuse to fire Imran Awan when everyone else did, threaten the Capitol Police, and then continue paying him?
Here's where Wasserman Schultz's dreadful media presence, along with what appear to be some true red flags, really comes into focus. Once the Awans were outed as targets of a Capitol Police criminal probe, every other Democrat in Washington immediately kicked them to the curb. (According to federal data, Imran Awan earned $164,000 in 2016, and his wife, Hina Alvi, earned $168,300. That's a lot of cash for government IT employees.)
Also: Who in hell hires an entire family of IT employees? If, say, a local lawmaker or someone like Gov. Rick Scott handsomely paid a husband, wife, and two of their brothers to run, say, janitorial services, every newspaper in the nation would cry nepotism.
Likewise, while multiple mainstream outlets, including the Washington Post and BuzzFeed, have published "explainers" about the burgeoning scandal, they've glossed over major legal red flags that Rosiak uncovered in court records, including allegations made in court that the Awans threatened to kidnap their own family members. Rosiak also reported that the family members seem to have filed false financial disclosures in order to obtain their government jobs and either misreported or outright lied about their debts to foreign businesspeople.
Anonymous sources also told Rosiak that the FBI seized smashed hard drives from Imran Awan's house, which certainly doesn't look good.
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The Awan family was banned from the House IT network February 2, but Wasserman Schultz kept Imran on her payroll until he was arrested last week. Infamously, when Capitol Police seized a laptop from Wasserman Schultz's office, she later threatened the cops with "consequences" at a hearing if the police didn't return the device.
4. Are the bank fraud charges and data theft allegations connected?
This is where the case really gets confusing. Despite the brouhaha over the Capitol Police investigation, that case hasn't resulted in any charges yet. Awan was arrested last week for simple bank fraud, which doesn't appear to be a smoking gun pointing to WikiLeaks or blackmail. According to the criminal complaint, Awan and his wife are charged with attempting to defraud the Congressional Federal Credit Union by receiving a $165,000 loan by claiming one property was their primary residence when, in fact, they were renting the place out. (The Awans have pleaded not guilty.) That's bad, but it's not exactly House of Cards-level political material.
5. Why are the Democrats so hush-hush about all of this?
This, more than anything, is the classic Wasserman Schultz flaw: hubris in the face of negative press. In the face of adversity, she tends to double-down and dig in her heels, which has rarely helped her (or any lawmaker) when confronted with legitimately negative news. The Awan case is no different: She has shied away from TV appearances and has neglected to explain why the family was hired a decade ago. So has every Democrat tied to the family. Granted, it's difficult to say much to the media during an open criminal investigation, but the public deserves more answers than it has gotten.