Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz never actually saw the computer she fought to block the Capitol Police from examining as evidence in a criminal case against her IT aide by saying it was hers, she told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel Thursday.
She threatened “consequences” on May 18 for the chief of the Capitol Police unless the laptop was returned — despite police contending it was needed to help determine whether a staffer may have violated the House’s cybersecurity.
“This was not my laptop. I have never seen that laptop. I don’t know what’s on the laptop,” she said Thursday. She said it was Imran’s laptop but purchased using taxpayer funds from her office.
After the exchange with Capitol Police Chief Matthew Verderosa, Wasserman Schultz fought to block access to the laptop so vehemently that she hired an outside law firm to argue constitutional issues, an exceedingly rare step.
In the May hearing on the Capitol Police’s budget, she repeatedly posed hypotheticals about if a member loses their laptop and it is found by police. The police chief, clearly aware of the situation to which she is referring, says if the laptop belongs to a criminal suspect, it may be seized as evidence.
“If a Member loses equipment and it is found by your staff and identified as that member’s equipment and the member is not associated with any case, it is supposed to be returned. Yes or no?… My understanding is the the Capitol Police is not able to confiscate Members’ equipment when the Member is not under investigation,” she said.
She opened her questioning of Verderosa by saying “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?”
But after Verdosa said “if it’s part of an ongoing case, then there are additional things that need to be done,” she repeatedly characterized the hypothetical laptop as that of a member.
Even if one of her staffers is under investigation, a laptop that belongs to her should not be viewable as evidence unless she herself is under investigation, she said.
“I mean in a specific sense. If the member loses the equipment, says they lose the equipment, and it is found by the Capitol Police, it is supposed to be returned.”
The chief responded, “if ownership has been established, it will be returned. If it’s subject to an ongoing investigation, there are additional things,”
She concluded: “I think you’re violating the rules when you conduct your business that way and you should expect that there will be consequences.”
In the Thursday interview, she said Imran misplaced his laptop in a Capitol office building.
Wasserman Schultz acknowledged to the Sun-Sentinel that Imran is suspected by House authorities of transferring data from the House network, in addition to theft. She refused to fire him until he was arrested by the FBI trying to fly to Pakistan, saying because she wanted police to share evidence with her but they would not.
In explaining the heated exchange with the police chief, she told the paper “I was trying to get more information, I wanted to make sure [police] were following the rules.”
She told the paper she has now allowed police to examine the laptop; on July 19th Fox News reported that she had been blocking the review for months due to “speech and debate clause” issues but was now open to “negotiating” over access.
Wasserman Schultz spokesman David Damron did not immediately respond to questions from The Daily Caller News Foundation, including whether there were any restrictions imposed on the access she granted.
He also did not say how the speech and debate clause would have applied to the laptop of an IT technician who worked part-time for several members. It is intended to give immunity for statements members make in the carrying out of their direct legislative duties, such as preparation for committee hearings.
Her local paper called her “defiant” in the interview, saying she kept Imran — who had access to all of her congressional emails as well as her personal iPad password — on staff even after police told her he was the target of a criminal investigation into cybersecurity issues because “you have to stand up for what’s right.”
“I would do it again,” she said, saying she had “racial and ethnic profiling concerns.” (Imran and his brother have repeatedly been accused of fraud by other Muslims in civil court cases, and an ongoing civil case alleging life insurance fraud, their stepmother says Imran said he was “very powerful” and would have people kidnapped if she called police on him. She said he wiretapped her and wanted her to help him access money in Pakistan.)
Wasserman Schultz also said it was “absurd” to say that Imran was fleeing the country. Both he and his wife Hina Alvi — also employed by Wasserman Schultz as an IT person — bought round-trip flights, but also wired hundreds of thousands of dollars to Pakistan and listed one house for sale and accepted a buyer for another on the day Imran left for the airport.
The FBI says it believes Hina has no intention of returning to the US, and it arrested Imran July 24 as he tried to board a flight to Pakistan. Damron has previously declined to tell TheDCNF what Hina told the office about her trip, if anything, but it removed her from its payroll two days after she left.
Wasserman Schultz said Imran requested unpaid leave from her office for a trip. “When you’re trying to flee, you don’t fill out a form with your employer and go on unpaid leave.”
But tenants who rented houses from Imran told TheDCNF he has routinely left the country for long periods of time. No gaps corresponding with unpaid absences are visible in Wasserman Schultz’s salary records in recent years.
The Sun-Sentinel said she has refused to speak personally about the issue until now, and quoted her as saying “I’ve been on vacation,” she said. “I’m not hiding, and I have no reason to hide.”
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