The uproar over Rep. and a now-fired information technology employee who faces a bank fraud charge appears to be much ado about not much.
The germ of truth in it is that the man was under investigation and Wasserman Schultz refused to dismiss him absent any evidence or charge of wrongdoing. After he was arrested for mortgage fraud for claiming a rental house as his permanent residence, she let him go.
It’s noteworthy that the charge against Imran Awan, a naturalized citizen from Pakistan, has nothing to do with the allegations leveled in February and repeatedly raised by right-wing media.
President also has seized on the case to attack the mainstream media for paying little attention to the story before the arrest. In fact, the media was watching, but there wasn’t much of a story to report until then.
Leaving aside the breathless coverage by Fox News, the Daily Caller and other right-wing media, these are the essential facts:
Awan, his wife, two brothers and a friend are information technology experts whose services were shared by Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, and nine other Democratic members of Congress. In February, the Capitol Police advised House administrators that they were being investigated concerning missing inventory items and whether data had been transferred with an insecure application. Although no charges were filed, their access to the House computer system was revoked. The offices that employed them were notified and everyone but Wasserman Schultz fired them.
She says she redefined Imran Awan’s duties so that he could continue to work for her office part-time, giving technical advice and servicing printers, computers, cell phones and other technology outside of the House network. The same House office that had terminated his access helped prepare the new job description, according to Wasserman Schultz.
In late July, she said, Awan took unpaid leave and bought a round-trip ticket to Pakistan, where his family had gone to be with relatives. At the airport, he was arrested by the FBI and Capitol Police on a charge that appears to have nothing to do with the original investigation. He’s accused of bank fraud by obtaining a $165,000 home equity loan from the Congressional Federal Credit Union on property that he rents out and is not his primary residence. The money reportedly was wired to Pakistan. Informed of the charge, to which Awan has pleaded innocent, Wasserman Schultz fired him. There is still no other case against him.
The issue needs to be seen against the backdrop of the conspiracy theory floated several months ago over the death of Seth Rich, a young man who worked at the Democratic National Committee. Wasserman Schultz chaired the committee until stolen emails compelled her resignation during the 2016 campaign.
Although Washington police believe Rich was killed in a robbery attempt, a Fox News report in May insinuated that it had to do with the damaging WikiLeaks dump of the DNC emails. U.S. intelligence agencies, however, had concluded that the email theft was the work of Russian agencies. Fox retracted the story a week later, saying that it had not met its standards.
A pending lawsuit has alleged the White House was complicit with Fox News in hatching that story. Although that has not been proven, the lawsuit in turn has brought attention to a months-old allegation by Andrew Feinberg, a reporter who had worked in Washington for Sputnik, a Russian state-owned news organization. Feinberg says his superiors pressured him to bring up the Seth Rich story at a White House press briefing.
As Yahoo News quoted Feinberg on Tuesday, he was told, “We want you to ask about Seth Rich and if those revelations should put an end to the Russia hacking narrative and the investigation.” (Emphasis ours.) Feinberg said he refused and was fired.
Wasserman Schultz was plainly the target of that conspiracy theory. “I’m the person who supposedly murdered him,” she told us. Now she’s in the crosshairs of another.
“I am a very favorite target of Donald Trump’s right-wing noise machine,” she told us. They want to do anything they can to distract attention from the investigation of his campaign’s possible collusion with the Russians during the presidential campaign, she said.
Judgment should be withheld pending the outcome of the investigation that led to the former staffer’s arrest. But the possibility of political motives can’t be dismissed out of hand.
The absence of any other charges hasn’t inhibited right-wing media from insinuating that Awan, who didn’t work for the DNC, was somehow involved in the email hacks, that FBI agents found smashed computers at his home, that Wasserman Schultz “seemingly” intended to keep paying him while he was in Pakistan, and that he couldn’t have done any useful work for her without access to the House computer system. Based on all that, a conservative watchdog organization has filed a complaint against her with the Office of Congressional Ethics.
The campaign took a particularly vile turn when the website US Daily News 24 compiled news, blogs and tweets on the case July 28 under a headline, “Wasserman Schultz going to mental hospital after what she did overnight desperate to escape arrest.” There was nothing in the text to support the headline, which Politifact, finding no evidence for it, branded a “pants on fire” lie.
Trump last week copied a tweet from the right-wing site Townhall accusing the major non-Fox networks of covering up the “IT Scandal Engulfing Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s office.”
There is still no “scandal” to be covered up. Awan has not been charged with a crime related to his congressional duties. The bank fraud charge, meanwhile, looks like something that was filed in a hurry to keep Awan in the country. It doesn’t seem likely that the FBI would bother with a case in which a bank had not lost money.
Why did Wasserman Schultz, unlike her colleagues, continue to employ Awan when she knew he was under investigation? We asked her. She said it was a matter of simple fairness and due process.
“I’m not proclaiming the man’s innocence,” she said. “I think the investigation should proceed however it proceeds, but these individuals had been charged with nothing based on the investigation.
“It would have been much easier for me to just terminate him. Everyone else did,” she said. “I could not do that in good conscience.” And if she had to do it over again, she said she would do the same thing.
A political adviser might fault her for taking the risk, knowing she has a target painted on her back.
Others might praise her for doing a decent thing.
Editorials are the opinion of the Sun Sentinel Editorial Board and written by one of its members or a designee. The Editorial Board consists of Editorial Page Editor Rosemary O’Hara, Elana Simms, Gary Stein and Editor-in-Chief .