Nearly three months after Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-FL) engaged in a terse exchange with Capitol Police Chief Matthew R. Verderosa over the ownership of IT aide Imran Awan’s laptop, the Democratic lawmaker is claiming concern over “racial and ethnic profiling.”
Let's start from the beginning.
In February, it was revealed that Imran Awan, an IT specialist who worked for numerous Democrat lawmakers, was under investigation for allegedly “stealing equipment from members’ offices without their knowledge and committing serious, potentially illegal, violations on the House IT network” according to Politico. Four others (three relatives and a friend) are also under investigation.
The Washington Free Beacon reports that “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.”
For five months, Wasserman-Schultz kept Awan on her payroll, refusing to fire him despite other lawmakers terminating his employment. The congresswoman claims she was simply “[standing] up for what’s right.”
After the investigation went public, however, Wasserman-Schultz was forced to redefine Awan’s position as he was no longer permitted to access the House IT network. She told the Sun Sentinel that “there are plenty of technological issues that an IT person can assist with. He didn’t have access to the network, but he was able to give us guidance and advice and troubleshoot on a wide variety of other technological issues.”
The story took an unusual turn when a piece of hidden technology was uncovered.
The Daily Caller reports that during the course of the investigation, a laptop “hidden in an unused crevice of the Rayburn House Office Building” was found and seized by police. The laptop allegedly belongs to Imran Awan.
However, at the annual budgetary hearing for the Capitol Police on May 18, Wasserman-Schultz grilled Chief Matthew R. Verderosa about the laptop, implying that it was her property.
The partial exchange is as follows:
WASSERMAN-SCHULTZ: I’d like to know how Capitol Police handle equipment that belongs to a member or staffer that’s been lost in the Capitol complex and found or recovered by one of your officers. What happens?
VERDEROSA: It’s processed on a PD-81 which is a property record, and depending on the property, depending on how you can legitimately determine ownership, it’s generally turned back over to the owner of a property. If it’s part of an ongoing case, then there are other things that have to occur for that to happen.
WASSERMAN-SCHULTS: So if a member says there is equipment that has been lost, and you find it it would be returned to the member?
The back-and-forth continued, with Verderosa repeatedly noting that if the item in question is “part of an ongoing case, then there are additional things that need to be done.”
Wasserman-Schultz persisted, implying that because the laptop was allegedly her property, and because she herself was not under investigation, it should be returned:
WASSERMAN-SCHULTZ: Members’ equipment is members’ equipment. My understanding is the the Capitol Police is not able to confiscate members’ equipment when the member is not under investigation. It is their equipment and it is supposed to be returned.
VERDEROSA: I think there are extenuating circumstances in this case…
WASSERMAN-SCHULTZ: I think you’re violating the rules when you conduct your business that way and you should expect that there will be consequences.
On July 24, Awan was arrested as he attempted to board a flight to Pakistan via Qatar. He was subsequently “charged with bank fraud after a months-long investigation that found he wired nearly $300,000 to Pakistan,” reports The Washington Free Beacon.
Politico details the charges: “Awan is accused of attempting to defraud the Congressional Federal Credit Union by obtaining a $165,000 home equity loan for a rental property, which is against the credit union’s policies since it is not the owner’s primary residence. Those funds were then included as part of a wire transfer to two individuals in Faisalabad, Pakistan.”
Fox News adds: “[Awan] pleaded not guilty Tuesday to one count of bank fraud during his arraignment in federal court in Washington, D.C. He was released but will have to wear a GPS monitor and abide by a curfew.”
It wasn't until Awan’s arrest that Wasserman-Schultz decided to terminate his employment.
Following previous reports that Wasserman-Schultz was in “negotiations” with Capitol Police regarding the extent to which they could examine the seized laptop, she told the Sun Sentinel on Thursday that she has allowed an examination to go forward. She also admitted: “This was not my laptop. I have never seen that laptop. I don’t know what’s on the laptop.”
Moreover, the congresswoman said her distress is due to possible violations of Awan’s legal rights:
I had grave concerns about his due process rights being violated. …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.
The congresswoman released a similar statement on July 26, just after Awan's arrest and termination. Both statements mirror the ones provided by Reps. Gregory Meeks (D-NY) and Marcia Fudge (D-OH) in March. However, Meeks and Fudge didn't wait five months to take action.
Regarding her exchange with Police Chief Verderosa, Wasserman-Schultz added: “I was trying to get more information, I wanted to make sure they were following the rules.”
She also balked at the idea that Awan was fleeing the country because he filled out a form concerning his leave of absence, and bought a round-trip ticket.
This situation is baffling, and it brings to the fore several questions. Why did Wasserman-Schultz imply the laptop was hers? Why did she fight against an examination of the laptop so vociferously? Why has it taken her so long to allow an examination? Why did she continue to employ Awan when numerous others fired him upon discovery of the investigation? Why did she wait so long to reveal the alleged motivations behind her defense of Awan and his laptop?
These questions need to be answered. Perhaps the contents of Awan’s laptop will do that.