Watchdog wants investigation into Wasserman Schultz over IT staffer

A right-leaning ethics group is pushing for a congressional probe into Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz because she continued to employ an IT staffer for months after he became the focus of a criminal investigation.

The Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust (FACT), a conservative accountability group, is requesting the Office of Congressional Ethics launch an investigation into what the nonprofit says is Wasserman Schultz’s “apparent breach” of House rules for continuing to employ Imran Awan, even after he was blocked from accessing the House IT system earlier this year.

Awan was fired by Wasserman Schultz last week after being arrested on one count of bank fraud while attempting to leave the U.S. for Pakistan. But Awan and several of his family members, also previous House staffers, have been the center of a criminal investigation for months involving an equipment and data scam on Capitol Hill.

Awan and his relatives worked as shared employees for more than two dozen House Democrats in the past several years. After the Capitol Hill investigation came to light in early February, most lawmakers fired the other staffers in question.

But Wasserman Schultz retained Awan, even though he has been barred from accessing the House IT network since February. FACT maintains there’s no way Awan could have performed IT duties for Wasserman Schultz over the past six months, despite staying on the Florida Democrat’s payroll.

“House staff are compensated with taxpayer funds, and members are directly responsible for ensuring their staff are only paid for official public work, work that has actually [been] performed and at a rate commensurate with the work performed,” Matthew Whitaker, FACT executive director, wrote in a letter to the OCE.

“It was, therefore, contrary to the House ethics rule for Wasserman Schultz to continue to pay Awan with taxpayer funds even after he was barred from the House computer system and could not perform his duties, and was also under criminal investigation.”

Wasserman Schultz’s office did not return a POLITICO request for comment on the letter. Her office has also refused to respond to multiple questions in recent months about the nature of Awan’s work for her office since February.

Conservative news outlets have seized on the Awan story, floating unsubstantiated claims that as an IT staffer, he may have had access to and then leaked Democratic National Committee emails when Wasserman Schultz was running the organization. Federal intelligence agencies have said Russia was behind the DNC leak that ultimately led to Wasserman Schultz’s resignation and there has been no evidence tying Awan to the hack.

Awan’s lawyer said he believes his client is being targeted by a “right-wing-media-driven persecution” because he is Muslim. Until his firing last week, Awan worked for Wasserman Schultz since 2005.

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