Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz is “negotiating” with the Capitol Police over whether to stop blocking access to a computer seized from her as part of a criminal cybersecurity investigation, Fox News reported Wednesday.
Soon after resigning as head of the Democratic National Committee in wake of it being hacked, the Florida Democrat’s top information technology (IT) aide, Pakistan-born Imran Awan, was named as the lead suspect in a separate information breach involving House data.
But instead of cooperating with Capitol Police, she used a hearing on the law enforcement group’s budget to threaten “consequences” for Police Chief Matthew R. Verderosa unless he returns her a computer taken in the investigation. Wasserman Schultz appeared visibly distraught in the televised hearing.
The computer was not returned, but it was reported Wednesday that investigators have not been able to examine contents of the equipment.
Now, after months of refusals, a lawyer representing the Florida lawmaker said she is “negotiating” with Capitol Police over whether she will grant them access, Fox reported.
The DNC also refused to let the FBI assess its servers after it was breached during Wasserman Schultz’s tenure as chairman, Obama administration officials testified.
Fox News said authorities didn’t examine the laptop’s content because of the Constitution’s Speech and Debate clause, which is designed to keep law enforcement from punishing lawmakers based on their political stances.
Politico reported that the investigation is into “committing serious, potentially illegal, violations on the House IT network” as well as theft. A fellow Democratic House IT staffer told The Daily Caller News Foundation’s Investigative Group that computers Imran managed were transferring information in a secret off-site server.
Wasserman Schultz has refused to fire Imran even though he’s been banned from the House network, and he’s been seen in the Capitol complex since the ban, sources told TheDCNF, raising questions of whether he could tamper with evidence.
Soon after Imran began working for Wasserman Schultz in 2005, four of his relatives — including younger brothers Abid and Jamal — appeared on the payrolls of other House Democrats at inflated salaries, adding up to $4 million since 2009.
Other IT aides told TheDCNF that the relatives were rarely seen and that requests for computer repairs went unanswered, yet more and more lawmakers added Awans to the congressional payrolls each year. Also, IT companies that offered to undercut the Awans’ pricing by significant margins were inexplicably turned down, prompting speculation that members were being blackmailed or paid off.
As email administrators, the brothers could read all emails to and from dozens of members, including several on the House foreign affairs, homeland security and intelligence committees.
Democratic members have been completely unfazed by the apparent cybersecurity breach, despite a trend of hacks against government entities, and claimed that Capitol Police framed five IT aides because they are Pakistani Muslims.
But their own stepmother, a devout Muslim, called police in Virginia and said they used high-tech devices to wiretap her home and tried to extort her into signing papers that would give them access to cash stored in Pakistan in their deceased father’s name.
The stepmother, Samina Gilani, said in court documents that Imran said he was “very powerful” and would have her loved ones kidnapped in Pakistan.
Court records show that their father changed his last name, and two relatives said that was because he detested illegal behavior by his sons.
In public lawsuits in Fairfax County, Va., the brothers have been accused of life insurance fraud as well as fraud involving a car dealership.
That car dealership took $100,000 from an Iraqi politician as a loan, court records show.
Abid Awan owed hundreds of thousands of dollars to creditors while employed in the sensitive job, and filed bankruptcy. The brothers made obvious misstatements on House financial disclosures which were not caught by House authorities at the time.
It is not clear what “negotiations” entails, but it implies police might not have full access to the computer. For example, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was allowed to self-determine which of her emails were private and delete them before handing the rest over to investigators.
The Speech and Debate Clause can permit congressmen and their staff to do things “contrary to criminal or civil statutes” — but it is not clear why Wasserman Schultz would want a staffer who perpetrated a cyberbreach to not be prosecuted, or whether she is worried the investigation could focus on her.
It covers only activities that are “clearly a part of the legislative process,” a federal court found. Communications not pertaining directly to committee work or voting would not be covered.
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