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Conservative watchdog group calls for ethics probe of Wasserman Schultz

Greg Nash

A conservative-leaning government watchdog group on Monday asked the Office of Congressional Ethics to investigate whether Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) violated ethics rules by employing an IT staffer prevented from accessing the House computer system.

In a complaint to the Office of Congressional Ethics, the Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust (FACT) questioned why Imran Awan had been employed by Wasserman Schultz despite being at the center of a criminal investigation on Capitol Hill for allegedly stealing equipment.

Other Democratic lawmakers who contracted with Awan severed ties by March as the investigation became known. But Awan was not terminated from Wasserman Schultz’s employ until last week after he was arrested on bank fraud charges while trying to leave the country.

{mosads}Awan was still employed by Wasserman Schultz despite no longer having access to the House’s computer system since February.

“It appears that Representative Wasserman Schultz permitted an employee to remain on the House payroll in violation of House Ethics Rules. After Awan was barred from accessing the House computer system, Wasserman Schultz continued to pay Awan with taxpayer funds for IT consulting — a position that he could not reasonably perform,” Matthew Whitaker, FACT’s executive director, wrote in the complaint.

Wasserman Schultz spokesman David Damron said her office consulted with the House chief administration officer to figure out how to keep Awan’s services without accessing the House network. His subsequent work included helping with the website and printers. 

Damron accused FACT of pursuing the case for partisan purposes. 

“In other words, the complaint that this right-wing group says it’s filing is entirely baseless. It’s no surprise that they would nonetheless file it, against one of Donald Trump’s fiercest critics, at a time when the Administration is trying to distract from its internal turmoil and destructive health care efforts,” he said. 

Wasserman Schultz said in a statement last week that her office had previously reviewed details of the investigation and found “no evidence to indicate that laws had been broken, which over time, raised troubling concerns about due process, fair treatment and potential ethnic and religious profiling.”

But Awan’s arrest ultimately led to Wasserman Schultz relinquishing his services. 

Opponents of Wasserman Schultz, who was ousted as Democratic National Committee chairwoman just over a year ago, have seized on the story in recent days.

Hacked emails leaked on the eve of the Democratic convention last summer showed Wasserman Schultz and DNC staffers disparaging Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) during his contest against eventual nominee Hillary Clinton. The circumstances leading to her resignation from the DNC have made her a popular target on the right and far left.

Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel called Awan’s arrest “a huge national security issue” during an appearance on the Larry O’Connor Show.

“This is the thing that should be investigated right now. We need to determine what type of access this gentleman had, why is he trying to flee the country and why was he detained at Dulles last night on what we think was bank fraud?” McDaniel said.

And Tim Canova, a Sanders supporter who unsuccessfully ran against Wasserman Schultz in the Democratic primary for her House seat in 2016, seized on Awan’s arrest last week. 

“I take no pleasure in providing today’s update,” Canova wrote in an email to supporters last week. “Like many others, we call on the Capitol Police, the U.S. Justice Department, and Congress to investigate these and related allegations.”

Unlike last year, Canova has not received support from Sanders in his next attempt to unseat Wasserman Schultz in 2018. Canova has come under criticism for recently floating conspiracy theories about the death of DNC staffer Seth Rich.

—Updated at 6:36 p.m.

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