Imran Awan was arrested at Dulles International Airport July 24, while attempting to board a flight to Pakistan. For more than a decade the congressional staffer had worked under top House Democrats, and he had just been accused by the FBI of bank fraud.
It was a dramatic moment in a saga that started in February, when Capitol Police confirmed an investigation into Mr. Awan and his family on separate accusations of government theft. The details are tantalizing: The family all worked for top Democrats, were paid huge sums, and had access to sensitive congressional data, even while having ties to Pakistan.
Even if this never adds up to a spy thriller, it outranks most of the media’s other obsessions.
The media largely has ignored the affair, the ho-hum coverage summed up by a New York Times piece suggesting it may be nothing more than an “overblown Washington story, typical of midsummer.” But even without evidence of espionage or blackmail, this ought to be an enormous scandal.
Because based on what we already know, the Awan story is—at the very least—a tale of massive government incompetence that seemingly allowed a family of accused swindlers to bilk federal taxpayers out of millions and even put national secrets at risk. In a more accountable world, House Democrats would be forced to step down.
Congress is advancing an investigation into a growing scandal surrounding IT staffers working for Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D., Fla.), who are accused of stealing sensitive computer equipment from House lawmakers’ offices, according to senior congressional sources who told the Washington Free Beacon the Democratic leader’s refusal to answer questions could “merit resignation.”
Congressional leaders have now requested a formal briefing by Capitol Police into its investigation of several Pakistani House IT staffers who are accused of stealing sensitive computer equipment and of illegally penetrating congressional networks.
Imran Awan, one of the staffers who worked for Wasserman Schultz and several other Democratic members of Congress, was arrested this week when trying to travel to Pakistan and charged with bank fraud after a months-long investigation that found he wired nearly $300,000 to that country. Several other staffers tied to Awan are the focus of an investigation into claims they stole sensitive equipment and illegally penetrated the House IT network.
Leading members of Congress are growing frustrated with the pace of the criminal investigation and have moved to conduct their own independent probe into the scandal, according to multiple sources who indicated that the relevant congressional committees are making moves to start an investigation, which could include compelling testimony from Wasserman Schultz, who has been accused of stonewalling on the issue.
As more information about the nature and scope of the IT staffers’ collection of privileged congressional information becomes public, lawmakers are seeking to immediately begin their own investigation into the situation.
Rep. Ron DeSantis (R., Fla.), a member of the House Oversight Committee and chair of its National Security Subcommittee, formally requested a briefing from the Capitol Police on Tuesday, telling the Free Beacon that the situation amounts to “one of the all-time congressional scandals in the last 30 years.”
Other senior congressional sources who spoke to the Free Beacon about the situation described Wasserman Schultz’s lack of cooperation in the investigation as unsettling, and said that her continued payments to these staffers even after evidence of their illegal activity became public may merit her resignation.
“I’m pushing very heard to get a full briefing from Capitol Police as soon as possible,” DeSantis told the Free Beacon. “There’s clearly criminal elements to this and I think there will be more going on. There’s probably going to be ethics issues on why these [taxpayer] funds were spent that [Wasserman Schultz] and others will have to deal with.”
“We have to know what happened now and we can’t wait for a criminal case to be done,” DeSantis added. “We need an immediate briefing from the Capitol Police.”
The congressional investigation into the matter is likely to be helmed by the House Committee on Administration, which has jurisdiction over these issues, in conjunction with House Speaker Paul Ryan’s (R., Wis.) office, according to sources apprised of the situation.
The scandal is said to have rocked the halls of Congress, despite little mainstream media coverage, sources said.
“The extent of the potential breaches has been made more clear” in recent weeks, according to one senior congressional source who would only speak on background when discussing the sensitive matter. “The inexplicable nature of the conduct of Wassermann Schultz and others has broadened” congressional interest.
Lawmakers are confused as to why Wasserman Schultz continued paying Awan and other staffers implicated in the breach for several months after this information came to light.
“At best for her that is gross misapplication of public funds that could merit resignation alone,” the source said. “There’s got to be more to that story.”
The accused staffers are believed to have had access to sensitive intelligence information related to the House Foreign Affairs Committee, as well as lawmaker’s personal information, prompting concerns the breach could be far deeper than initially suspected.
Lawmakers such as DeSantis and others have become increasingly interested in questioning Wasserman Schultz about the situation and her behavior.
“Yes, we could ask for her [Wasserman Schultz] to testify” Rep. Louie Gohmert (R., Texas), told the Free Beacon late last week.
Gohmert described the situation as “incredible” and troubling given these staffers’ access to privileged information on the internal House computer network.
“You don’t have to be all that great at hacking to hack into almost anyone’s email and calendar,” Gohmert said. He noted this information is not classified or privileged because it pertains to official congressional business.
Sources: WSJ and Washington Free Beacon