In early February, five employees of the House of Representatives were banned from the House IT network. The five former House
employees are the subject of a criminal investigation by the Capitol Hill Police. They are accused of stealing equipment and accessing House IT systems without lawmakers’ knowledge. The former employees were “shared” IT employees. “Shared” means they worked for several offices, performing IT functions.
The five employees worked for over 20 members, to include members from the Intelligence and Foreign Affairs Committees and former Democratic National Committee (DNC) Chairwoman, U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Shultz (D-Fla.). You may remember Wasserman-Shultz has had IT issues in the past when she was chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee in 2016.
The salaries of the employees should have been the first clue something was not right. Anyone that has worked on Capitol Hill will tell you, the salaries are not great. Most staffers can expect to start in the $30-40,000 range, not a lot for one of the most expensive cities in America. However, at least three of the staffers in question were making over $160,000 per year, three times the average IT staffer salary. To put that number into perspective, Chiefs of Staff, with dozens of years on the Hill, rarely make that much.
The story gets worse from there. All five employees are related, three of them were brothers, Jamal, Imran, and Abid Awan, with Hina Alvi being married to Imran, and Natalia Sova being married to one of the other brothers. Hina has apparently fled the country with her children, to Pakistan, where her family reportedly has significant assets and VIP protection.
The strangeness of the case does not end there. The brothers also had a car dealership, Cars International A (CIA) they used for supplemental income. The dealership was not doing so well, and fell behind in payments to their vendors. One vendor, Rao Abbas, threatened to sue them, and suddenly he received a paycheck from U.S. Rep. Theodore Deutch (D-Fla.). That payment has yet to be explained.
The brothers then took out a $100,000 loan from Dr. Ali Al-Attar. The brothers were unable to repay that loan, but that doesn’t seem to be a problem, because Dr. Attar is a fugitive from U.S. authorities. Attar was indicted on tax fraud charges after the IRS and FBI discovered he used multiple bank accounts to hide income, in March 2012. The doctor is also believed to have ties to Hezbollah, the terrorist group. Al-Attar has since fled to Iraq.
As the investigation continued, it kept getting worse. Several offices hired new IT staff, and found some of the computers were sending data to an offsite server. It is unknown what type of data or where the server is located yet, but several IT professionals on the Hill now believe members could be subject to blackmail because of the data theft. The violations were so bad, one staffer said, “There’s no question about it: If I was accused of a tenth of what these guys are accused of, they’d take me out in handcuffs that same day, and I’d never work again.”
The case took another turn in a committee hearing on the Capitol Hill Police budget last week. Wasserman-Shultz took the opportunity to confront the Capitol Hill Police Chief about evidence in possession of the police. The Congresswoman wants a laptop computer back that is currently considered evidence by the Capitol Hill Police. The laptop allegedly was assigned to Imran Awan, the ringleader of the group. The laptop was found hidden in a different building from the one Wasserman-Shultz works in. The Congresswoman has an office in the Longworth building, but the laptop was found “hidden in an unused crevice of the Rayburn House Office Building.” The Capitol Police seized it and are treating it as evidence in their ongoing criminal investigation.
While at the committee hearing, Wasserman-Shultz berated the Chief of Capitol Hill Police about procedures for getting the laptop back. The Chief explained what the procedures are, but the procedure changes if the laptop is evidence in a criminal investigation. The Congresswoman did not like that answer, and continued to ask the same question over and over. To his credit, the Chief answered the same way over and over. Finally, the Congresswoman threatened “consequences” for not returning her equipment. The video can be seen here, the exchange begins at 1:24:25.
This brings us to a question being asked a lot in Washington D.C. lately. What is obstruction of justice? The phrase seems to be the latest buzzword of the D.C. establishment since James Comey was fired earlier this month. Did Wasserman-Shultz attempt to “obstruct justice” by demanding the investigating authority hand over evidence in a criminal matter, or suffer “consequences”? Remember, the Congresswoman is on the committee that controls the budget of the very person she threatened “consequences”.
The Congresswoman was singing a different tune earlier this month about “obstruction”. Wasserman-Shultz commented about the Comey firing, saying “If President Trump pressured then-FBI Director Comey to close down an investigation into former National Security Advisor Flynn, it would represent an egregious corrosion of the rule of law.” Does this mean the Congresswoman is representing an “egregious corrosion of the rule of law”, her words not mine?
This latest incident with Wasserman-Shultz has created more questions than answers. Why would the Congresswoman risk “obstruction of justice” to get this computer back? What is Wasserman-Shultz trying to hide? If there was a potential breach of IT security on Capitol Hill, wouldn’t the Congresswoman want that cleared up?
We have a legitimate security breach and a potential blackmail situation occurring on Capitol Hill, but the press is focused on a Russia story still with no evidence. We have an offsite server sucking up Congressional data, with criminal suspects fleeing to Pakistan for protection, but the press wants to focus on a special counsel with no apparent crime to investigate. We have a member of Congress pressuring the Capitol Hill Police on camera, but the press wants to talk about a memo no one has seen.
Where is the call for a special counsel on this scandal? Could it be Congress was breached by a foreign intelligence service, and no one wants to admit it, or did Congress get ripped off by a family of scammers? We need to find out the truth, no matter how unpleasant.