Luke Rosiak on October 29, 2017
Rep. Keith Ellison, deputy chair of the Democratic National Committee, said he was unaware of the DNC’s role in funding the Trump dossier, repeating claims from former DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz and sources close to Hillary Clinton. The denial is reminiscent of Ellison’s claims to have not heard of Democratic IT aide Imran Awan, despite being repeatedly informed of the major investigation involving him.
In both the Awan and dossier affairs, Democratic leaders have said they did not have knowledge of major events that greatly concern them. Investigators contend that Imran Awan and his family members made unauthorized access to House servers thousands of times and funneled massive amounts of data off the network shortly before the 2016 presidential election. The Awans could potentially read the data of one in five House Democrats.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi professed unfamiliarity with the Awan investigation despite playing an important role in the handling of the case months ago as one of the House leaders who determined it warranted a criminal probe.
“I’m not familiar … I haven’t followed that so closely,” Pelosi said in May when asked about Imran Awan’s continued employment in the House. “We’ve been busy with a lot of other things.”
Pelosi, however, was one of “the leadership [who] agreed to refer the probe to Capitol Police and the FBI” in October 2016 after the House inspector general said the Awans “could be reading and/or removing information,” The Washington Post reported.
The Daily Caller News Foundation asked her about the situation and her commitment to cybersecurity in September, and she simply walked away.
Other Democrats claim to have not looked into the matter despite the data security and corruption implications, with some members making seemingly contradictory statements or even implying there never was an investigation into cybersecurity and procurement issues.
After Imran’s arrest made national headlines in July, Ellison said, “I don’t even know about this arrest that you say happened, and I don’t know the person you’re referring to.” However, The Daily Caller News Foundation brought it to the attention of his congressional office and the DNC, asking for comment in February, March and July.
“I get that you’re following me all this way, but even if you follow me all the way to my office I’m not going to suddenly know something,” Ellison said when asked about the possible cyber breach. Given that the DNC itself was the victim of a cyber breach and that a staffer for dozens of elected officials had just been arrested, it’s unclear why an engaged DNC official would have never heard of it, and why his staff would not have informed him when receiving requests about it from the media.
Ellison had in fact discussed the case before, saying in May “I’m at a massive disadvantage because I don’t really know the issue at all.” He then apparently did nothing to correct that “disadvantage.”
The Awan family is also suspected of running a ghost employee ring in which most of them did not actually show up. Since 2014, the IT person on the payroll of Rep. Emanuel Cleaver was Rao Abbas, who worked at McDonald’s and lived in Imran’s basement. Cleaver paid Imran Awan himself only $200 in the last decade.
“Imran was the guy who worked in our office, I don’t know this other guy,” the Missouri lawmaker said in June. Despite the obvious discrepancy — the admission appears to mean that someone not on his payroll had been logging into his computers and that he was paying someone he didn’t actually see — Cleaver did not express any alarm or curiosity.
“Some people say it’s because he’s Muslim that he’s being railroaded … I don’t know enough about it,” he said. He also said it never occurred to him that IT guys had access to emails. “Emails?… You mean the one from the election?”
Rep. Ted Deutch of Florida, who also was paying the McDonald’s worker, promised he’d look into the issue and discuss it, then refused to do so.
Rep. Joaquin Castro, a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, claimed to be unaware of any suggestion of impropriety on Capitol Hill, despite TheDCNF sending detailed information about it to his office in person and over email in the weeks prior. The office appears to have taken no steps to tell the member the information or act upon it.
“The only thing I’m aware of is that he’s being charged with bank fraud,” Castro said. “Do you have evidence that there’s anything more than a bank investigation?”
Awan’s lawyer has said the only reason that prosecutors found out about the bank fraud he was charged with is because they were looking into him because of the underlying House-related investigation, which saw him banned from the House network.
“Wasserman Schultz said the chiefs of staff were told that Awan and his family members were having their access to the House IT network cut off because they were under investigation for ‘procurement violations and data transfer violations,’” The Sun-Sentinel reported.
Politico reported in February, after Democrats from the House Administration Committee briefed chiefs of staff, that “the employees allegedly stole equipment from members’ offices without their knowledge and committed serious, potentially illegal, violations of House IT policies.”
There was no suggestion of mortgage fraud until months later, when prosecutors hurriedly slapped together a financial crime indictment in order to prevent Imran from leaving the country. The FBI arrested him at Dulles airport where he was trying to board a flight to Pakistan. Much of the activity contained in the affidavit associated with his arrest did not even occur until after he was banned from the House computer network.
Democratic members of congress who employed the Awans have not said they took any action to review their data security, with some saying they were unaware of any reason to do so. The House Administration Committee’s ranking Democrat is Robert Brady of Pennsylvania, and it’s run at the staff level by Jamie Fleet. Fleet did not return a request for comment.