Awan, a technology staffer, and four associates, including family members, were accused in February 2017 of violating House security rules and later fired, and Awan eventually pleaded guilty to a relatively minor, unrelated offense of making a false statement on a bank loan application.
But right-leaning media outlets led by the Daily Caller, the conservative news and opinion website co-founded by Fox News host Tucker Carlson, repeated allegations that Awan was a Pakistani operative who stole government secrets with cover from House Democrats. President Trump on Twitter publicly called for the prosecution of Awan, whom he called the “Pakistani mystery man,” and suggested that he might have been responsible for the campaign hacking of the Democratic National Committee that U.S. authorities attribute to Russia.
Even after prosecutors announced that they found no evidence that Awan violated federal law with respect to the House computer systems, he has continued to come under attack, including in online articles and videos and on cable and radio broadcasts, according to the suit. Awan and the others, who live in Washington’s Virginia suburbs, have faced death threats and prolonged unemployment, and their children have been bullied, the suit claims.
The lawsuit filed Tuesday accuses the named defendants, as well as a foundation associated with the Daily Caller, of defamation and unjust enrichment, seeking damages to be determined by a jury and “disgorgement” of unjust profits. It was filed by Awan; his wife, Hina Alvi; his brothers Amid and Jawal Awan; and friend Rao Abbas in Superior Court for the District of Columbia.
“This lawsuit seeks accountability for a relentless, xenophobic campaign of defamatory attacks that have destroyed the reputations and ruined the livelihoods of a group of Pakistani-American Muslims,” states the 25-page complaint, written by prominent appellate lawyer Deepak Gupta.
The lawsuit recites an alleged litany of “malicious” and defamatory claims by Rosiak, accusing him of falsely asserting that Imran was guilty of numerous crimes, including that he was “caught . . . stealing the identity of an intelligence specialist” and “sending electronic equipment to foreign officials”; that Imran “solicited a cash bribe”; and that he and others “hacked the House.”
“Imran Awan is basically an attempted murderer, an extortionist, a blackmail artist, [and] a con man,” Rosiak allegedly said in a July 15 interview transcript and video posted by the Epoch Times and cited in the lawsuit. “This was a story of actual hacking, blackmail, collusion with foreign governments, threats, evidence tampering,” Rosiak allegedly went on.
Rosiak and spokespeople for the Daily Caller News Foundation could not immediately be reached for comment.
Ethan Barton, acting editor in chief of the Daily Caller News Foundation, said: “We haven’t been served. We can’t comment on a lawsuit if we haven’t been served.”
Gupta said in a statement, “This case shows that fact-free conspiracies don’t just damage our politics — they can ruin real people’s lives.”
Defamation cases are rare and raise complex issues of protected First Amendment speech. Defendants are likely to invoke the freedom of the press to report on public figures and controversies. Still, the Constitution does not protect demonstrably false, malicious statements of fact.
The Awans and Abbas declined to comment, Gupta said, adding that they are not public figures.
Depending on the media companies’ response, the Awan case could also open a new front in society’s response to politically motivated disinformation.
In taking aim at Regnery and the Daily Caller, Gupta said he has consulted with attorneys for parents whose children were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012 and who have brought similar defamation lawsuits against Alex Jones, the Infowars online talk-show host who has long claimed that the shooting was “completely fake” and a “giant hoax” perpetrated by gun rights opponents.
However, unlike Jones, who is more or less a solo operator, the Daily Caller and Regnery are leading lights of the conservative media firmament, providing a platform for many right-leaning commentators and a stable of Republican authors and claiming broader corporate ties and partnerships. Such prominence could be a double-edged factor, potentially bolstering the defendant’s claims to First Amendment protections, or putting their credibility at risk.
Regnery is a leading publisher of conservative books by authors including commentator Ann Coulter, former Alaska governor and GOP vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin, former House speaker Newt Gingrich and Vice President Pence.
Regnery was purchased in 2014 by the Salem Media Group, and its books since 2018 have been distributed by Simon & Schuster, the Awan lawsuit claims. It also asserts that Rosiak’s book appeared on Amazon’s “top 10” list for online sales and that an audiobook version was released by Amazon subsidiary Audible. The Washington Post is owned by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.