Where Are Republicans On The House IT Scandal?


Peter Flaherty President, National Legal and Policy Center
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The two months that have passed since the August 17 indictment of Imran Awan and his wife Hina Alvi, former technology staffers for Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-FL), have yielded little except more mystery.

The mainstream media has largely ignored the story. Most of what we know has been reported by Luke Rosiak in the The Daily Caller. The revelations have become a staple of conservative media, providing fuel for a social media brushfire. In apparent response, an informal hearing was held on October 10 by a handful of members of the Freedom Caucus. The lead witness was Rosiak who complained of an “extraordinary level of silence from official channels” about the scandal.

You would think that House Republican leaders would give the Awan mess a much bigger stage. This GOP disinterest is the biggest mystery of all. The media and Democrats in Congress created a frenzy over vague accusations that Russia interfered with last year’s presidential election. They were always short on specifics, but they did have one, the publication of Wasserman-Schultz’ emails by WikiLeaks.

Then came along the reports that the Awans had access to all of the electronic data for a score of Democrats, including members of the House Intelligence and Homeland Security Committees. Imran Awan is even alleged to have the password to Wasserman-Schultz’ iPad. Maybe the Wasserman-Schultz emails didn’t come from the Russians as Wikileaks has always maintained, or if they did, perhaps they were first stolen by someone else.

But none of these developments seem to be of much interest to Speaker Paul Ryan or his lieutenants, even though they would be expected to make the most of them. There is certainly more smoke here than anything involving Trump or the Russians, and it involves the highest echelons of the Democratic Party in the form of Wasserman-Schultz.

When politicians fail to act in their own obvious self-interest, it usually means something else is up. So in this case, what is it? One possibility is that the Awans were so fully embedded on Capitol Hill that electronic data belonging to members of both parties was compromised. Perhaps Republicans are just as fearful as Democrats of what the Awans stole and what ultimately they will do with it.

A greater possibility is that the House branch of the Republican Party has ceased to function as a real political force. The intensity of the media-driven hysteria over the Russia allegations was too much for Ryan and company. They ultimately caved in to the fury by defending the appointment of a special prosecutor and putting Congressional committees at the service of the “Get Trump” forces. Once Ryan bowed to his opposition, he became invested in the premise of their actions. Any subsequent facts that undermine the Russia narrative become inconvenient and unwelcome.

The House Ethics Committee is notoriously ineffective in dealing with actual corruption but it suddenly has become a tiger on Russia, opening an investigation of Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), the Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, for supposedly disclosing classified information when he told a press conference that Trump and his associates were spied on by intelligence agencies and unmasked in reports. At the same time, the Committee is ignoring similar disclosures by two Democratic members of the Intelligence Committee, Reps. Adam Schiff (D-CA) and Jackie Speier (D-CA).

There is no indication that the Ethics Committee, chaired by Rep. Susan Brooks (R-IN), is doing anything about the Awans, even when story after story appears about their outside businesses and scams, the income from which was not reported on their disclosure forms. These reporting violations are not the Awans’ most serious transgressions, but they provide Republicans with a thread on which to start pulling and an opportunity to raise the profile of the entire affair.

They do not have to defer to investigations by the FBI, the Capitol Police or anyone else. If they were serious about the task, they could proceed on every possible front, much like the Democrats have done on the Russia allegations.

In 2012, the Ethics Committee could not find anything wrong with a secret $40,000 payment to Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-NY) from Guyanese-American businessman Edul Ahmad. Meeks employed Hina Alvi until she fled to Pakistan in March and says the Awans are victims of anti-Muslim bias.

Meeks claimed to the Committee that the payment was a loan but he could not produce a note or repayment schedule. Ahmad later would be convicted in a multimillion dollar mortgage fraud scheme that resembled those reported of the Awans. Like Imran Awan, Ahmad was arrested at the airport trying to flee the country. If the Ethics Committee conducted a real investigation of Meeks, it might have cracked a much bigger scandal.

The other Republicans on the Committee are Reps. Patrick Meehan of Pennsylvania, Trey Gowdy of South Carolina, Kenny Marchant of Texas and Leonard Lance of New Jersey. Maybe now that the Russia issue is fading, they can start doing their job.

Peter Flaherty is President of the National Legal and Policy Center.

Views expressed in op-eds are not the views of The Daily Caller.