- A lawyer for former Democratic IT aide Abid Awan grilled a witness to find out what she told federal investigators
- He wanted to know if FBI agents asked her whether his client’s brother was involved in “radical Islamic activities”
- An investigation found Awan and his brothers made “unauthorized access” to congressional servers
A lawyer for Abid Awan — one of the three brothers who the House Inspector General found made “unauthorized access” to congressional servers before the election — used a deposition in an unrelated civil case to ask a witness to reveal what she told FBI agents, to ascertain if they asked about “radical Islamic activities,” and inquire about a grand jury.
Attorney Jim Bacon also asked the witness to try to find out details of the investigation from officials and asked whether they had offered to put her into a witness protection program. The deposition was given as part of a lawsuit regarding the Awans’ deceased father’s $50,000 life insurance policy.
Bacon asked the witness — the Awans’ stepmother, Samina Gilani — who from Capitol Hill was gathering information about the alleged hack on Congress, according to a transcript of the deposition, which was conducted in Bacon’s office.
“Come clean. That’s the best,” Bacon told her, calling it “important.”
Gilani testified that the oldest Awan brother, Imran, was wiretapping her.
“He has connected my phone, my house phone, with his own phone,” she said. “Whenever I talked to someone in Pakistan, he told me later on that you told this, you said this.”
The FBI has been investigating Imran Awan, his wife, Hina Alvi, and his two brothers, Abid and Jamal — all of whom were employed as server administrators for Democrats — since the inspector general briefed congressional officials in 2016 that the brothers were suspected of theft of House equipment and wrongfully accessing congressional servers, The Daily Caller News Foundation previously reported. The Awans could read all the emails and files of 1 in 5 House Democrats.
Imran and Alvi were indicted for bank fraud in August 2017, but more serious charges connected to potential cyber crimes haven’t been issued. Witnesses have said Imran has tried coercing them, TheDCNF previously reported.
Imran and his wife wired $283,000 to Pakistan on January 18, 2017. The transfer was listed in a criminal complaint by the government after Imran was arrested at the airport attempting to board a flight for Pakistan. The Awans’ father died two days earlier, on January 16. On January 17, Abid submitted notarized paperwork requesting to remove Gilani as the beneficiary of his father’s $50,000 life insurance policy and replaced her with himself, TheDCNF previously reported. That led to a civil court dispute in Fairfax County, Virginia.
Gilani’s lawyer, Michael Hadeed, said the lawsuit involved only one question: whether paperwork changing a life insurance beneficiary could be finalized after the person’s death. But Bacon used an Oct. 4, 2017 deposition in the case as a vehicle to grill Gilani for details of the ongoing FBI probe.
Q Have you ever told anybody that Mr. Imran Awan committed any crime?
Q Have you ever told anybody that Hina Alvi committed —
Q — any crime?
Q You understand me, don’t you?
HADEED: I’m going to object on this irrelevant questioning.
BACON: It’s very relevant to her —
HADEED: The only relevance in this case —
THE WITNESS: No, never told anyone.
HADEED: It’s just simple, man. It’s just interpretation of a contract. C’mon. Anyway, go ahead.
BACON: Okay. Have you ever told the police, when you called the police about your husband, or the FBI, or the Capitol Police, or anybody that Mr. Awan was involved in any radical Islam or radical Islamic activities?
A No, never.
Q You’ve never said anything like that?
A (No response.)
Q Has anybody ever asked you that question? Anybody?
A FBI asked me when they came. I said no.
Q The FBI asked — whoa, whoa, whoa. The FBI asked you about the Awan brothers and whether they were involved in any radical Islamic activities, right?
BACON: She just said —
THE INTERPRETER: She said no.
THE WITNESS: I’m just telling you whatever FBI — they never asked me about the radical Islamic question and never replied anything.
BACON: Okay. Did they ask about any crimes?
Gilani’s reversal of her answer to Bacon’s question about the FBI asking about radical Islamic activities was possibly due to a language barrier.
Bacon, who specializes in money laundering cases, asked a question about a grand jury, something that is generally shrouded in secrecy.
Q Did you ever say to the FBI or Capitol Police or anybody, “If you help me get this money, I will help you, and I’ll try to do what I can to say things that will help you.”
Q Did you ever testify anywhere about any of the Awan brothers?
Q Did you ever file any documents like Exhibit Number 1 that are declarations, or solemn statements, or affidavits for the FBI or anybody?
Q Did the FBI or any Capitol Police or any government official ever ask you to sign any papers?
Q Do you know what a grand jury is?
Q Did you ever testify in court about the Awan brothers anywhere?
Q: What did you talk about with the FBI when they came to your house?
HADEED: I’m just going to object based on relevance.
A They wanted to know about the money, where did they send that. And I told them I don’t know about that.
Q What money? The life insurance proceeds?
A No, no.
Q The life insurance?
A No, no, no.
Q What money are you talking about?
A They asked me, wanted to know the money, where are they sending.
Q Where are they sending money. Who is they?
A Imran and — it’s been a long time. They were talking about Imran and everyone else.
Pay records show the Awans and a few friends drew $5 million in congressional pay since 2009, TheDCNF previously reported. Republican officials close to the investigation say that, in addition to the cybersecurity issues, they believe the brothers conducted a multi-million dollar “ghost employee” scheme in which no-show relatives, and one friend, were placed on the House payroll.
Democrats have refused to say whether they ever saw some of their purported IT aides, such as Rao Abbas — a former McDonald’s worker who was added to the payroll of Reps. Emanuel Cleaver and Theodore Deutch shortly after court filings showed that Abid owed him money. Now-Sen. Joe Donnelly of Indiana also placed the Awan father on his payroll as an IT aide.
The FBI interviewed Gilani seemingly not only because of her personal knowledge of the suspects, but because the father’s death and the looming House investigation coincided with a sudden scramble for control of assets in Pakistan. Sources including relatives of the Awan family have told TheDCNF that Imran was storing sizable assets there, in part through a company called Al Moeen Associates, which owns a major real estate development. Incorporation paperwork obtained by TheDCNF in Pakistan shows Gilani was a 10 percent owner of Al Moeen, as was Abid, while the father owned 70 percent.
A police report shows that Gilani said the brothers prohibited her from visiting her husband on his deathbed. A distant relative who visited him on his deathbed, Nasir Akhtar, told TheDCNF that Imran said — in front of his father — that Gilani had not bothered to come because she was “busy writing a book,” a reason Akhtar remembered finding unlikely. She said when the Awans first came to the US, they had no assets.
Gilani said in court documents that the brothers’ goal was to ensure that that they, not she, would have claim to the assets in Pakistan.
Q (reading from a written statement by Gilani) “Shahid Imran Awan demanded me to sign a power of attorney for my Pakistani matters.” Do you see that?
Q What were your Pakistani matters that are referred to in there?
A The property he has in Pakistan, Mr. Shahid told me to give him the power of attorney for that property.
Gilani’s attorney repeatedly objected to questions that were focused on the ongoing criminal probe rather than the life insurance dispute between Gilani and Abid.
“Now, did they ask if Hina was sending any money or was it just Imran that they were asking about sending money?” Bacon asked, for example.
Hadeed interjected: “Listen. I have a right to say this because it makes the case simpler … This case is based solely on the January 16th date of death and the January 17th attempt to change the beneficiary.”
But Bacon continued: “We’ll be here another couple of days. So what time do you have to leave tonight? I’m not leaving until I get everything I need out of you.”
Hadeed said, “Well, just ask questions that relate to the case and maybe we can get on faster.”
Bacon told Hadeed, “You’re testifying now. Don’t do it again.”
Hadeed replied, “Don’t trick her.”
Bacon repeated: “Don’t do it again. Don’t do that again.”
Hadeed said: “I can object on attorney-client privilege.”
Bacon said: “No, you can’t.”
Bacon tried to find out what questions congressional investigators had asked Gilani and asked her to find out about the probe.
Q Did they say they were doing an investigation?
A Yeah, investigation.
Q Did they say how far along it was; whether it was almost finished or whether it was just starting?
Q Did they tell you anybody else they spoke with?
HADEED: Off the record. (Brief discussion off the record.)
MR. BACON: So you understood from them that they were doing an investigation, right?
Q So did they explain to you what they were specifically investigating or generally what they were investigating?
A They wanted to know where they are sending the money.
Q Were there any other questions that were asked about any other family members that you can recall and tell me about?
A No, nothing else. The only things I told you already. I already told you they asked me about that. That’s all.
Q How was your conversation left before they left your house?
A Nothing. They just said we are leaving.
Q Okay. Did they ask you to get them any information or find out anything for them?
Q If they want to speak to you again, will you ask them what’s going on with their investigation?
A I don’t think so they would contact me.
Q Well, if they do contact you, will you ask them when the investigation is going to conclude?
A I don’t think so I will talk to them and no, I would ask them it.
Gilani said in court documents that “Imran Awan threatened that he is very powerful and if I ever call the police again [he] will do harm to me and my family members back in Pakistan … he threatened that he has power to kidnap my family members back in Pakistan.”
At the deposition, she tried to avoid answering wide-ranging questions. When Bacon asked Gilani for the name and phone number of the people who were financially supporting her — who she was also living with — she said:
A I don’t want to give you a name.
Q I’m sorry, but you have to.
A No, I don’t want to tell you.
THE WITNESS: Sorry.
BACON: She can’t refuse or I’m going to go to court and ask the judge to order a response. I hope you explained to her she has to answer the questions.
HADEED: I’m going to object to the relevance of the question. It has nothing to do with the issues in the case, but —
BACON: Well, we don’t know until we have a name. And if we have a name, that might lead to the discovery of very relevant and admissible information.
MR. BACON: So I need the name, ma’am. You have to give me the name.
Gilani ultimately gave Bacon the name.
She frequently answered in the negative — sometimes apparently falsely, such as saying she does not have an email address, when later Bacon pointed out that she had emailed the FBI. Gilani’s answers in the deposition could be used to limit her potential testimony in a criminal trial against Imran.
Q Do you know anything about Imran’s financial affairs?
A No, I don’t.
Multiple sources, including a Democratic aide who said Imran bragged to him, said the Awans pay police officers in Pakistan, TheDCNF previously reported. Bacon tried to find out whether Gilani had told investigators that.
Q Now, did you ever tell any police officers or government officials that the Awan brothers were paying the police officers?
Q And that they had a cousin whose name was Police Officer Ashar Awan?
MR. BACON: Azhar Awan. Since they were paying him, the police were on their side?
Q You never said anything like that?
A No, I never said that.
Q You didn’t tell anybody that?
A (Shaking head.)
During a break in the deposition, Abid sought to get Gilani to acknowledge speaking to the media. Afterward, Bacon used the conversation to continue:
BACON: But one thing was very clear to my client from her statements in conversations, and that was that she did acknowledge speaking with the press, although she has under oath denied it. So I’m going to re-examine her in light of her most recent conversation with my client during the break that she did, in fact, speak with the press.
AWAN: You noticed the statement.
Abid and his lawyer wanted to know who Gilani had spoken to about her stepsons and what numbers they called from, as well as what she told them and what they said.
Q I’ve asked you whether you had a conversation with anybody about the Awan brothers. And anybody means anybody at any time up to today. Who did you speak with yesterday, ma’am?
A The people from Capitol Hill.
Q Capitol Hill police?
A No, no. Not police.
Q People from Capitol Hill. Which people?
A Someone attorneys.
Q Some attorneys from Capitol Hill?
A Attorney’s assistant.
Q And did they come to your house?
Q Okay. And what did they want to know? About this case?
A They were asking about him.
Q What were they — when you say him, you’re referring to my client, Mr. Awan?
A About all of them.
Q Okay. So
AWAN: I’m having very much difficulty —
HADEED: All right. I want the record to reflect that I am now learning about this myself for the first time, too. So examine her. I’m sorry. I don’t know. (The interpreter spoke to the witness in a foreign language.)
BACON: Okay. So you want to go downstairs?
AWAN: Yeah, yeah.
BACON: All right. And then I’ll wait for you to come back —
BACON: Because I think this is important. So what are we going to take, however many minutes?
HADEED: It doesn’t have anything to do with the insurance case, but it’s —
BACON: I don’t know if it does or doesn’t, but she could have said a million different things. But she previously has sworn under oath she didn’t have conversations. And now we’re seeing that she did. (The interpreter spoke to the witness in a foreign language.)
THE WITNESS: But I told you I didn’t tell anything about them.
Q All right. Now, I’m sure, but you correct me if I’m wrong, they did not just show up out of the clear blue at 2:00 or 3:00 o’clock last week. They contacted you to set up a time and come see you, didn’t they?
A Yes. They told me they will come.
Q Okay. And did they call you to tell you this?
Q Did they call your land line or your cell phone?
A Cell phone. On my cell phone.
Q Is it the cell phone, the cell phone you have in your purse?
A I can receive calls on this phone but cannot make call on this phone.
Q Okay. But if you pull up your phone, will you be able to see the phone number that called you?
Q What about the Awan brothers did they ask you?
A What is this? What is this? How is this?
Q What is what? Did they show you papers?
HADEED: Tell her just to be more responsive. Just tell them everything. Don’t worry. You have to — just answer. It’s okay. (The interpreter spoke to the witness in a foreign language.)
MR. BACON: Come clean. That’s the best.
HADEED: Yeah. Tell them whatever – whatever they ask. I mean, unless you’re under oath to tell a grand jury.
Q Did they give you any papers and ask you to go somewhere like a subpoena?
Q Okay. When they asked you to tell them some things and they said they could help you, did they explain what kind of help they were willing to give you that they wanted to help you with?
A They didn’t say anything about help, but I told them before they offered me the help, I don’t need their help.
Q But did they ever indicate what the possibilities or the kind of help they could give you; whether they could take care of you, whether they can put you somewhere else so you can get away from them or anything like that?
A Since I didn’t ask them for any help, so that’s why they did not.
Hadeed told reporters Bacon had threatened to sue him for defamation and that he didn’t “want to get myself in a lawsuit over this,” TheDCNF previously reported.
The deposition ended with Bacon telling Gilani not to “dig a hole deeper and deeper to the point where you can’t get out of the hole that you dug for yourself. Okay?”
Wajid Ali Syed contributed reporting from Faisalabad, Pakistan.
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