WASHINGTON (JTA) — Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., said one of the reasons she would not fire a staffer under investigation for alleged information technology violations was that she believed he was being profiled because he was a Muslim.
Wasserman Schultz spoke to her hometown newspaper, the Sun-Sentinel, for the first time this week about an issue that has been the buzz of conservative media: Why did she keep on the staffer, Imram Awan, even after other House colleagues stopped working with him and he was denied access to the congressional computer network?
“I had grave concerns about his due process rights being violated,” she told the newspaper.
Awan, a Pakistani American, was arrested at an airport last week en route to Pakistan on what law enforcement has said is a mortgage fraud charge unrelated to the Capitol Police investigation launched earlier this year into whether he violated rules for transferring data on the U.S. House of Representatives network.
Wasserman Schultz said his alleged violations were routine and involved his downloading insecure apps.
“When their investigation was reviewed with me,” the lawmaker said of the Capitol Police, “I was presented with no evidence of anything that they were being investigated for. And so that, in me, gave me great concern that his due process rights were being violated, that there were racial and ethnic profiling concerns that I had.”
Awan was a shared worker, and other Democrats who employed him fired him as soon as the Capitol Police launched the data investigation. He was also banned from using the House IT network.
Wasserman Schultz fired him only last week, after the arrest for mortgage fraud. She said Awan never had access to classified information.
Conservative news outlets have pressed hard on the Awan story, offering unsubstantiated theories that Awan had ties to the leak of Democratic National Committee emails during the 2016 presidential campaign. Wasserman Schultz was chairwoman of the DNC until she was forced out after stolen emails revealed that she had favored Hillary Clinton, the eventual presidential nominee, in the primaries over Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.
A conservative watchdog group, the Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust, has requested the Office of Congressional Ethics launch a probe into why Wasserman Schultz continued “to use taxpayer funds” to pay an IT staffer after he was barred from the House’s computer network.
Wasserman Schultz told the Sun-Sentinel that her office worked with the House chief administration officer to develop a job description that “would allow him to continue to do work … until such time as there were other charges brought or we had some evidence that there was something that was produced that warranted further action.”
Wasserman Schultz is among the most prominent Jewish lawmakers in the Democratic Party.