Former DNC chair and current US Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz has finally broken her silence on her now-jailed IT adviser — to offer defiance to her critics. After months of investigation, the FBI arrested Imran Awan at the airport as he attempted to leave the US for Pakistan, and he faces bank fraud charges, at least for now. The rest of her colleagues had terminated Awan months earlier, but Wasserman Schultz had kept him on the payroll until his arrest. She tells the Sun-Sentinel that she’d do it all over again, and that it was “the right thing” to do:
Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz defiantly stands by her decision to keep an information technology aide on her payroll for six months after he was banned from the House network and fired by other members of Congress.
“I believe that I did the right thing, and I would do it again,” Wasserman Schultz said Thursday in an exclusive interview with the Sun Sentinel. “There are times when you can’t be afraid to stand alone, and you have to stand up for what’s right.
“It would have been easier for me to just fire him,” she said.
Awan’s access to the computer network had been cut off when the investigation began, which makes his continued status with Wasserman Schultz even more curious. She claims that Awan still provided valuable consultations on non-network matters, such as printers, phones, websites, and software. However, there are plenty of consultants available to help with those issues and who can get cleared to help with network matters as well. Why didn’t Wasserman Schultz find a consultant with a better range of available services to replace Awan once informed of the investigation?
This is where “the right thing” comes into play. Wasserman Schultz claimed that Awan appeared to be a victim of racism at the Department of Justice, and that she was defending him against unfair prosecution:
“I had grave concerns about his due process rights being violated,” she said. “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,” she said. …
And, she said, she believes he may have been put under scrutiny because of his religious faith. Awan is Muslim.
That was apparently Wasserman Schultz’ mindset right up to the point where Awan tried to flee the country. At that point, she terminated his work with her office … but why? If Awan’s the victim of unfair prosecution, wouldn’t “the right thing” be to keep him on the payroll now, too? If she’s firing him now after the indictment got filed, isn’t that an admission that Awan’s not a victim of profiling at all, but someone whom the Capitol police and DoJ legitimately suspected of crimes? And if that’s the case, then doesn’t that call into question Wasserman Schultz’ singular decision to maintain his access to Congress despite having received warnings of Awan’s activities?
The investigation may not go much further than bank fraud, Anthony Man reports. His source said that the DoJ has not found any “national security implications” in the probe thus far. The report last week that the FBI seized hard drives and computer equipment from a house owned by Awan might only relate to the distribution of funds from the bank fraud, although it might be too soon to tell whether it extends into any other crimes, too. Wasserman Schultz points out that the Congressional network to which Awan (and all other members of Congress) have access does not contain any classified information, which would normally make it a low-value target for espionage anyway. As for the suspicion that Awan may have been the DNC leaker, Wasserman Schultz says it’s impossible. She never had him do any work for the DNC.
Even so, it still seems very strange for anyone to retain an IT adviser who’s the target of an ongoing Capitol police/DoJ fraud investigation, especially for someone in Congress and a high-ranking official of a major political party. Wasserman Schultz’ colleagues clearly thought so too, and so it’s likely that we have not yet heard the full story on Awan’s work in her office.
Update: I misspelled Rep. Wasserman Schultz’ last name in several places in the original post, including in the headline. I’ve fixed it, and apologize for the error.