Debbie Wasserman Schultz and the Suspected Pakistani Spy Whom She Employed
In 2016, Schultz’s longtime noteworthy connections to a suspected Pakistani spy whom she employed made national headlines. The controversy centered around an Information Technology (IT) worker named Imran Awan, who was born in Pakistan in 1980 and first came to the United States in 1997, when he and his family members were awarded green cards through a federal lottery system. Awan subsequently earned an IT degree at Johns Hopkins University and became a U.S. citizen. In 2004, he landed his first job as an IT technician, working part time for then-Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Florida). Before long, Awan became one of Capitol Hill’s leading IT specialists, doing work for more than a dozen House Democrats, most notably Debbie Wasserman Schultz, for whom he began working in 2005. Though the median annual salary for Capitol Hill staffers at that time was approximately $43,000, Awan was paid approximately four times that amount.
Imran Awan then used his Washington connections to get IT jobs on Capitol Hill for five people who were very close to him: his younger brother, Abid Awan (who began working there in 2005); Imran Awan’s wife, Hina Alvi (2007); Abid Awan’s’s wife, Natalia Sova (2011); Imran Awan’s best friend, Rao Abbas (2012); and Imran Awan’s youngest brother, 20-year-old Jamal Awan (2014).
By 2016, Imran Awan and his five recruits had done work for at least three-dozen House Democrats. Notably, they ranked among the highest-paid staffers on Capitol Hill, each earning between $157,000 and $168,000 per year. It is estimated that between July 2009 and March 2017, these six IT staffers were paid a combined $4 million in taxpayer funds. According to National Review Online, “a few of these arrangements appear to have been sinecures,” given that “some Awans were rarely seen around the office.” They generally worked as “shared employees,” meaning that they were commissioned to perform work for dozens of House Democrats at various points in time.
This type of working arrangement had come under scrutiny in 2008 by then-House Inspector General James J. Cornell, who warned that “inadequate oversight” tended to be a problem wherever staffers were utilized as shared employees. “In most instances, they have all the freedom of a vendor and all the benefits of an employee without the accountability one would expect with an employee,” Cornell testified at the time. “[They] present an additional risk in that they often have access to multiple office’s data outside of both the oversight of congressional office staff and the visibility of House security personnel.” In addition, Cornell stated that a “growing number of shared employees are working in illegal teaming arrangements where,” in violation of House rules, “they pass the work off to other shared employees not on the payroll of the congressional office they are serving.”
Reflecting on the matter of Imran Awan and his five IT recruits, former federal prosecutor Andrew C. McCarthy notes how strange it was that the six had been paid such high salaries, and that they had been given security clearance by the government, even though they had been implicated in a number of ethical transgressions. Writes McCarthy:
“Why were they paid so much for doing so little? Intriguing as it is, that’s a side issue. A more pressing question is: Why were they given access to highly sensitive government information? Ordinarily, that requires a security clearance, awarded only after a background check that peruses ties to foreign countries, associations with unsavory characters, and vulnerability to blackmail. These characters could not possibly have qualified…. [T]he family, which controlled several properties, was involved in various suspicious mortgage transfers. Abid Awan, while working ‘full-time’ in Congress, ran a curious auto-retail business called ‘Cars International A’ [CIA], through which he was accused of stealing money and merchandise. In 2012, he discharged debts in bankruptcy (while scheming to keep his real-estate holdings). Congressional Democrats hired Abid despite his drunk-driving conviction a month before he started at the House, and they retained him despite his public-drunkenness arrest a month after. Beyond that, he and Imran both committed sundry vehicular offenses. In civil lawsuits, they are accused of life-insurance fraud.”
While they worked for the federal government, the Awan brothers frequently traveled back to their native Pakistan, spending “significant portions of the year” there, according to The Daily Caller. Moreover, other IT staffers on the Hill noted that the Awans were regularly absent from weekly meetings and from inter-office correspondences.
In March 2016, auditors from the House’s Chief Administrative Office noticed invoices for numerous pieces of computer equipment whose purchase prices had been falsely recorded as $499.99 each; this was significant because it was mandatory that all items valued at $500 or more be inventoried and carefully tracked. Some of these items eventually ended up in the homes of the Awan brothers.
In October 2016 the Inspector General’s Office tracked the computer login activities of Imran Awan and his five recruits, and found what investigators described as “massive” amounts of data that was being accessed, some of which was being stored outside of the House of Representatives’ computer network. Imran Awan’s wife, Hina Alvi, was the only person in the group who had been given security clearance to access the Democratic Caucus’s computer server. But over a period of seven months, she had logged in to that server fewer than 300 times, while Imran Awan and his brothers had logged in more than 5,700 times, combined.
While Debbie Wasserman Schultz was chair of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and Imran Awan was on her payroll, the DNC’s computer network was breached by hackers who mined and released a plethora of data – including evidence that the DNC had done everything in its power to rig the presidential primary race in favor of Hillary Clinton, and against Bernie Sanders. Wasserman Schultz refused to help the FBI in its subsequent investigation of that security breach, and she refused to allow forensic experts to gain access to the server so they could examine it. At the end of July 2016, the congresswoman stepped down from her post as DNC chair.
In December 2016, Imran Awan’s wife, Hina Alvi, began arranging a fraudulent $165,000 loan from the Congressional Federal Credit Union (CFCU), and on January 18, 2017, she tried to complete a wire transfer of $283,000 (which included the $165,000) to Pakistan. An affadavit filed in a U.S. District Court indicates that: (a) when the CFCU called Alvi to inquire about the transfer, a “male” (Imran Awan) answered the phone and pretended to be Alvi; (b) when CFCU asked what the reason for the wire transfer was, the male voice answered: “funeral arrangements”; (c) when the male was told that this was not an acceptable reason for making such a transfer, he stated that he would search online for an acceptable response; and (d) after a long pause, the male voice returned and told the CFCU representative that the reason for the wire transfer was: “buying property.” With that, the credit union wired the money to Pakistan.
In early February 2017, House security services informed Members of Congress that Imran Awan and his wife were the subjects of a criminal investigation in which they were accused of having stolen hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of computers and servers, and of having violated network security regulations. At that point, all five of Imran Awan’s IT recruits were fired from their Capitol Hill jobs, but Imran Awan himself was permitted to stay on Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s payroll. A spokesman for the congresswoman at the time explained that Awan – who was now blocked from using the House IT network by the House Sergeant-at-Arms – had been moved into an “advisory” role where he was “providing advice on technology issues.” Notably, Wasserman Schultz hired no other IT technician to cover the areas from which Awan had been barred.
Notwithstanding his lost access to the House IT network, Awan still had access to congressional members’ e-mail addresses, calendars, travel schedules, and private notes. He also had access to Wasserman Schultz’s congressional e-mails as well as those of the DNC, and was privy to the congresswoman’s iPad password. After federal authorities, during a search of a small room inside the Capitol Building, found and confiscated a laptop computer that Wasserman Schultz’s office had once issued to Awan, the congresswoman accused the Capitol Police chief of having violated House rules by taking property that belonged to a House Member. Moreover, Wasserman Schultz warned that there would be “consequences” if the computer – whose username was “RepDWS” (the congresswoman’s initials) – was not returned in a timely manner. Wasserman Schultz also used campaign funds to secure the services of lawyer Bill Pittard, who was commissioned to ensure that federal prosecutors were kept away from the laptop.
After the February 2017 announcement of a criminal probe into the activities of Imran Awan and his IT recruits, Awan quickly vacated the rental home where he had lived for some time. When a Marine vet subsequently moved into that same home, he found what he described as “wireless routers, hard drives that look like they tried to destroy, laptops, [and] a lot of brand new expensive toner.” “They left in a huge hurry,” the vet explained. “It looks like government-issued equipment. We turned that stuff over [to authorities].” In an effort to regain possession of the aforementioned equipment, Awan accused the Marine of stealing his property and threatened a lawsuit. The threat fell flat, however, because the FBI had already confiscated the equipment.
On March 5, 2017, Imran Awan’s wife, Hina Alvi, suddenly took her three children out of school (without informing Virginia education officials) and boarded a plane bound for Pakistan. An FBI affidavit revealed that Alvi also brought with her a large amount of luggage as well as $12,400 in American currency. (It is a felony to export more than $10,000 in currency from the U.S. without filing a currency transportation report, which Alvi did not file.)
Waiting for Alvi in Pakistan was the $283,000 that she and her husband had wired there three months earlier. By March 7, Alvi was no longer on the payroll at Wasserman Schultz’s office. No explanation was given as to why she had been fired two days into a trip that her employer presumably believed would be only temporary.
Following Alvi’s departure, Wasserman Schultz kept Imran Awan on her congressional payroll for another four months despite the fact that: (a) Awan was now blocked from the House computer network (essentially rendering him unable to do IT work), and (b) he was now the subject of an intensive investigation for fraud and data-security breaches.
In July 2017, Awan booked a round-trip ticket to Pakistan, with a projected return date of January 2018. Wasserman Schultz arranged to continue paying him during the six months he was expected to be away. But when Awan arrived at Dulles Airport on July 24 to board his flight, he was arrested by the FBI. When Wasserman Schultz learned of Awan’s arrest, then, and only then, did she finally terminate his employment.
Following Awan’s arrest, Wasserman Schultz defended her decision not to have fired the IT staffer sooner, saying that she “did the right thing” and “would do it again.” In early August 2017, the congresswoman elaborated: “I had grave concerns about his [Awan’s] due process rights being violated. When their investigation was reviewed with me, I was presented with no evidence of anything that they [Awan and his wife] 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.”
On April 1, 2018, the Daily Caller reported: “Every one of the 44 House Democrats who hired Pakistan-born IT aides [Imran Awan and his five recruits] who later allegedly made ‘unauthorized access’ to congressional data appears to have chosen to exempt them from background checks, according to congressional documents. All of them appear to have waived background checks on Imran Awan and his family members, even though the family of server administrators could collectively read all the emails and files of 1 in 5 House Democrats, and despite background checks being recommended for such positions, according to an inspector general’s report.”
For a list of all the House Democrats who used the IT services of Imran Awan and his five recruits, click here.
In a plea deal that was made on July 3, 2018, Awan pleaded guilty to federal bank fraud. Prosecutors said that they had “uncovered no evidence” that Awan had “violated federal law with respect to the House computer systems.” But as political analyst Lloyd Billingsley noted: “Observers of the case could find evidence that the outcome had been rigged. Since November, [a Fox News] report noted, ‘a judge [had] postponed Awan’s court hearing in U.S. District Court six times at the request of the prosecution and defense.’ As it turns out, prosecutor and defense are on the same side.” Explained Billingsley:
“Judge Tanya S. Chutkan was once a partner in the law firm of Boies, Schiller, & Flexner, which represented Huma Abedin in the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s email server. In 2014 [President Obama] tapped Chutkan for the DC District Court. There Chutkan was a vocal opponent of President Trump’s travel ban and ordered the Trump administration to provide abortions to two false-documented illegals….
“One of the key players is California attorney general Xavier Becerra, a former congressman once on Hillary Clinton’s short list as a [2016 presidential] running mate. As head of the House Democratic Caucus, Becerra was in charge of the server that Awan accessed. When investigators requested the server, they got only false information. That likely prompted Becerra’s flight back to the sanctuary state of California. Chutkan conveniently delayed the previous hearing until after the June primary, which Becerra duly won. So judge Chutkan clearly had the mid-terms in mind.
Author Frank Miniter was likewise “flabbergasted” by the court ruling. Click here for his analysis.
Additional Information on Debbie Wasserman Schultz
* From 2004-2010, Debbie Wasserman Schultz received political donationsfrom numerous left-wing groups and labor unions, including AFSCME, the American Association for Justice, the American Federation of Teachers, Planned Parenthood, and EMILY’s List. To view a list of additional supporters, click here.
* During a May 29, 2011 appearance on Face the Nation, Schultz said: “The Republicans have a plan to end Medicare as we know it. What they would do is they would take the people who are younger than 55 years old today and tell them, ‘You know what? You’re on your own. Go and find private health insurance in the health-care insurance market. We’re going to throw you to the wolves and allow insurance companies to deny you coverage and drop you for pre-existing conditions.’” Four non-partisan fact-checkers judged Schultz’s claim to be false.
* In September 2012, Schultz characterized the Republican Party as a “homogeneous” entity that “treat[s] disparate groups in a superficial way, [and] what that means is there’s not a lot done for Hispanic Americans, for African Americans, for LGBT Americans, for poor Americans.”
* Also in September 2012, the Democratic Party came under fire for having eliminated, from its official platform, any reference to “God” as well as any statement identifying Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. To defuse the controversy, Democrats, during their National Convention, amended the platform to restore both of the omitted references. Schultz thereafter claimedthat a “technical oversight” had led to the omissions, and that the subsequent amendments reflected President Obama’s personal views as well as those of the Party.
* In a May 28, 2014 interview with the Miami-based, comedy-radio duo Paul and Young Ron, Schultz made some noteworthy remarks regarding the case of U.S. Marine Sergeant Andrew Tahmooressi, an Afghanistan War hero who had been incarcerated in a Mexican prison for the past 58 days and counting. While driving to meet friends in a border town on March 31, Tahmooressi had accidentally missed an exit and ended up in Mexico, where authorities arrested and jailed him. At the time, the American had with him all of his belongings, including three firearms, which triggered the response from Mexican authorities.
“The Mexican government has not done anything wrong here, so let’s be clear,” Schultz told her radio interviewers on May 28. She then began to speak about how Mexico has laws, which Tahmooressi “appears” to have violated. When asked if Mexican authorities were treating Tahmooressi well, Schultz replied: “As far as I know, yes they are.”
The following day—May 29, 2014—Tahmooressi was interviewed via telephone on Fox News’ On the Record with Greta Van Susteren. There, he spoke of the nightmare he had gone through in Mexico. He said that his fellow inmates had threatened to rape and kill him; that he had been chained to a bed on three separate occasions as a form of “punishment”; that he had been punched in the stomach “to the point that I couldn’t breathe”; and that his jaw had been knocked out of place as a result of a multitude of blows from prison guards.