During the hearing, US District Judge Tanya S Chutkan accepted Awan's guilty plea to making false statements on a loan application. Part of the deal entailed that the prosecution would drop charges against Awan's wife, Hina Alvi, another congressional IT professional. The deal also gave Awan immunity from being charged over any previous non-violent crimes, according in-court reporting from Radio Sputnik's Fault Lines host Lee Stranahan.
— Lee Stranahan (@stranahan) July 3, 2018
Awan and his wife, two brothers Abid and Jamal, as well as Rao Abbas, were all linked to a criminal investigation conducted by the US Capitol Police. Alvi was stopped by the FBI and US Capitol Police at Dulles airport in March, but was nonetheless allowed to fly to Pakistan. When Awan went to fly himself in July, he was arrested by the same agency and arraigned the next day, pleading not guilty to bank fraud.
Most lawmakers had already fired Awan by June 2017 as it became clear he was under investigation, but former congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz kept him on her payroll until he was arrested.
Schultz was previously served as Chair of the Democratic National Committee, which claims its servers were hacked by Russians even though the FBI was cordoned off from conducting a forensic analysis on the hardware. It remains possible their data was compromised in a leak, as former NSA technical director Bill Binney and several officials from the Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity have argued. Regardless, the contents were published by WikiLeaks in July 2016.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 7, 2018
The connection to Schultz fueled unconfirmed speculation that Awan may have been the culprit.
"If you want to understand how propaganda works in America," Stranahan said, "listen to what the media doesn't tell you. Listen to what they're not talking about. If you listen to what they're not talking about, you'll see."
"Perfect example: at 10 a.m. today, Imran Awan's hearing is happening. Nobody in the media is talking about that. This is a big story where so many aspects of it are proven — why aren't they talking about it?" Stranahan asked, rhetorically.
"And it's related to the computer security and data security during the… 2016 election cycle, but it's totally and absolutely ignored," co-host Garland Nixon noted.
In September 2017, the House Office of Inspector General (OIG) gave a PowerPoint presentation to House leaders accusing Awan and his alleged cohorts of logging into the servers of House members who had previously fired him. In addition to the Democratic Caucus office servers, the servers of 15 members of Congress were allegedly logged into. "All five of the shared employee system administrators collectively logged onto the caucus system 5,735 times, an average of 27 times per day," a document detailing the Power Point presentation reads.
One danger posed by the activity is that the "server is being used for nefarious purposes and elevated the risk that individuals could be reading and/or removing information." In addition, Awan and the others were accused of installing Dropbox, a file-sharing program, on two caucus computers. "Two user account (sic) had thousands of files in their Dropbox folder on each computer."
The OIG report noted that they were not permitted to view the files but that based on file names, "some of the information is likely sensitive."
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 20, 2018
Separately from concerns over data theft, allegations of a theft ring on Capitol Hill run by Awan and his cohorts were levied by The Daily Caller, detailed in part by the OIG. For example, nifty accounting practices were used, including manipulating the cost of an item to fall short of the $500 threshold that requires it be marked as House offices inventory.
One example given in the document says that "75 pieces of equipment with a purchase price of $118,416 were recently written off the House inventory for a member because one of the subjects could not produce them."
Wendy Anderson, former chief of staff to Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-NY), was interviewed in the investigation and, in a copy of a letter detailing the interview leaked to the Daily Caller, said that when she went into Clarke's office one day, "it looked like Christmas, with Apple TV's, iPods, etc. scattered around the room."
Despite the many issues raised by the OIG, data breaches were not a concern shared by the Justice Department.
Government prosecutors noted in the plea deal that "the government has found no evidence that your client illegally removed House data from the House network or from House members' offices, stole the House Democratic Caucus server, stole or destroyed House information technology equipment, or improperly accessed or transferred government information, including classified or sensitive information."
The investigation into Awan and the four others included interviews with 40 witnesses and forensic analysis on some equipment.
According to the Washington Post, the plea deal "debunks conspiracy theories about illegal information access.
However, if you ask The Daily Caller, "questions remain."
Less than a month before the settlement, US President Donald Trump tweeted that the scandal is "a key to much of the corruption we see today. They want to make a "plea deal" to hide what is on their Server."