Luke Rosiak, DCNF
House Democrats professing moral outrage over the hacking of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) have remained apparently indifferent to the likely penetration of their congressional computer systems, declining to distance themselves from five Pakistani House server administrators who are the subject of an ongoing criminal investigation.
House authorities banned the five administrators from the congressional information technology (IT) network in February as part of a Capitol Police criminal investigation in what Politico described as “serious, potentially illegal, violations on the House IT network.”
Imran, Abid and Jamal Awan, Hina Alvi, Natalia Sova and Rao Abbas set up the email accounts and computer systems for dozens of members of Congress and their staffs, and they could read all emails and files on those systems.
A fellow congressional IT aide told The Daily Caller News Foundation Investigative Group that potentially sensitive information was being transmitted to an off-site server.
Capitol Police seized a laptop computer tied to Florida Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz — who resigned in July 2016 as DNC chairman following the committee’s hacking — during the investigation. The laptop was tied to Imran, her top IT person since 2005 who is under criminal investigation.
But instead of praising the Capitol Police for stopping a security breach, the Florida Democrat demanded they return the laptop to her even though it could be evidence needed to build the case. She threatened the police chief with “consequences” if it wasn’t returned.
Democrats have claimed that they deplore hacking and view cyberattacks as a dangerous frontier. Wasserman Schultz introduced an amendment Thursday aimed at blocking a “security clearance for any individual in a position in the Executive Office of the President, who is under a criminal investigation by a federal law enforcement agency for aiding a foreign government.”
Yet the lawmaker has refused to fire Imran even after House law enforcement banned him from the network.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said she wasn’t familiar with the issue.
“I haven’t followed that very closely,” she said. She shrugged at Wasserman Schultz’s continued employment of Imran, saying “there are plenty of people who are under investigation who still have their jobs.”
California Democratic Rep. Ted Lieu wrote a letter accusing Trump of jeopardizing national security by not taking cyber protections seriously. He noted that he had majored in computer science in college.
Lieu gave Abid server access when the latter had a criminal record, a recent bankruptcy, a public lawsuit involving allegations of fraud in a car dealership he was running while supposedly also working on the Hill, and widespread rumors that Abid’s numerous relatives on the House payroll were running a fraudulent scheme. The lawsuit also disclosed that Abid’s business received $100,000 from an Iraqi politician who is a fugitive from the Department of Justice.
Lieu did not fire Abid until March 10, more than a month after being informed of the Capitol Police investigation and after media reports that the Pakistani’s stepmother alleged in Fairfax County court that he had used high-tech devices to wiretap and extort her.
Lieu spokesman Jack Dannibale did not respond to TheDCNF’s request for comment — both after the congressman was informed of the criminal probe and after the letter to Trump. TheDCNF asked what Lieu has done to determine if any of his congressional emails or files had been compromised and what was done to prevent a recurrence.
“I hear two sides of the story, some people say it’s because he’s Muslim that he’s being railroaded, other people say he made some bad decisions. I don’t know enough about it,” Missouri Democratic Rep. Emmanuel Cleaver said.
Cleaver told The Daily Caller’s Kerry Picket that it didn’t occur to him that crimes involving his IT guy could pose a risk to the security of his data.
“Emails? This is the first I’ve heard about that … You mean the one from the election?” Cleaver said. “This is the first I’ve heard of that. Talk to me tomorrow because I don’t know enough about it to be intelligent.”
DNC spokeswoman Adrienne Watson has said “Russians attacked the DNC in an effort to disrupt our election,” and President Donald Trump “has shown zero interest in protecting our country from future attacks.”
The deputy chairman of the DNC, Rep. Keith Ellison, told the Daily Caller “I’m at a massive disadvantage because I don’t really know the issue at all.”
But either the Minnesota Democrat or his staff did not seem particularly interested to find out as TheDCNF had emailed both Brett Morrow, a spokesman for Ellison’s congressional office, and Eric Walker, a DNC spokesman, weeks prior with information and questions. Those emails went unreturned, and apparently did not result in a briefing on the Capitol Police investigation.
Despite four of the Awans being paid unusually high salaries — averaging around $160,000 and cumulatively totaling $4 million between 2009 and 2016 — other congressional IT aides have told TheDCNF they believe many of the suspects were “ghost employees.” Rao Abbas, for example, lived in the basement of a house that Imran owned and worked at McDonald’s until he was fired from that job. He was home all day, his housemate said.
A member of Congress’ signature is required on a form giving an IT aide administrative access, raising questions about why members would give server access to someone with questionable credentials and keep paying someone who they may have never seen.
“Who? I don’t even know him,” Cleaver said, adding that his chief of staff put Abbas on the payroll.
Reps. Ted Deutch and Charlie Crist, both Florida Democrats, and Nevada Democratic Rep. Jacky Rosen also employed Abbas and refused to say if they had ever seen the IT aide they were paying. Cleaver employed five out of the six suspects at various times, and Deutch employed three.
Hilarie Chambers, Michigan Democratic Rep. Sander Levin’s chief of staff, said “after being notified by the House Administration Committee, [Abid] was removed from our payroll. We are confident that everything in our office is secure.”
Chambers did not explain why she was confident Levin’s office is secure, given that there would be no record of IT aides making copies of data.
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