Here's one version of a story making headlines in conservative media over the past couple of weeks: A powerful Democratic congresswoman refuses to fire an information technology aide after he's accused of stealing House computer equipment and potentially breaching security protocols. Six months later, the FBI arrests him as he's boarding a flight to Pakistan and charges him with bank fraud.
Here's another version of the same topic, coming from Democratic lawmakers: Powerful Democratic congresswoman protects Muslim IT staffer from what she suspects is religious discrimination. She fires him after he is charged with a seemingly unrelated crime.
The case involving now-fired House Democratic information technology staffer Imran Awan and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) underscores how easy it is to manipulate facts to suit one's political leaning.
The story has blown up on the right, with conservative website Daily Caller writing more than two dozen stories about it and Fox News hosts linking it, without any evidence, to the Russian WikiLeaks hack of DNC emails, which happened under Wasserman Schultz's tenure as chairwoman.
President Trump poured gasoline on the story when he retweeted a conservative site describing the “scandal engulfing” Wasserman Schultz and accusing the media of ignoring it.
Mainstream media outlets have covered the story, but not extensively. The Washington Post has published two articles: One reporting Awan's arrest and the other about a watchdog group seeking an investigation.
Left-leaning sites have either stayed away from it or defended Wasserman Schultz's account of it.
The congresswoman says conservatives are making a big deal of this to distract from the much more real Russia investigation. “Undoubtedly, the easier path would have been to terminate Mr. Awan, despite the fact that I had not received any evidence of his alleged wrongdoing,” she said in a statement issued last week, “but that is not the woman my constituents elected, and that is not the mother my children know me to be.”
Clearly, there are a lot of political accusations tied up in this nuanced story. Here's what we know about the timeline of accusations against Arwan, his arrest and his dismissal by Wasserman Schultz.
February: Capitol Police accuse five IT staffers of trying to steal House equipment and violating House security policies, report BuzzFeed and Politico. They are shared employees who work for 30 or so members of Congress. Capitol Police ban the five from access to the House of Representatives network while it investigates. Investigators tell lawmakers that it's up to them to decide whether to fire the accused staffers.
Awan is one of those staffers accused. Most of the others are related to him, including his wife, Hina Alvi.
February–March: Politico follows up on the fate of the staffers and finds some Democratic lawmakers have kept them on the payroll, Wasserman Schultz included. While Capitol Police claim there may have been potentially serious IT violations, these lawmakers see it differently.
The IT staffers have worked for many of the offices for more than a decade, and some Democratic lawmakers said they were concerned these staffers may have been targeted by Capitol investigators because they are Muslim and from Pakistan.
“As of right now, I don’t see a smoking gun,” Rep. Gregory W. Meeks (N.Y.) tells Politico, even as he confirms he has dismissed Alvi. “I wanted to be sure individuals are not being singled out because of their nationalities or their religion. We want to make sure everybody is entitled to due process.”
Wasserman Schultz remains quiet, other than to say Awan had been moved to an advisory role since he was no longer able to directly interact with the House network. She remains dubious about the accusations against Awan and does not see cause to fire him. She becomes increasingly concerned he was being singled out because of his religion.
In an interview on Aug. 3 with the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, she said she felt Awan had been nabbed on a technicality: He had been accused of using innocuous programs like Dropbox to transfer information, which doesn't clear House security protocols.
“When their investigation was reviewed with me, 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,” she said.
A spokeswoman for Capitol Police declined to comment on the accusations, saying they do not comment on ongoing investigations. The police force is overseen by the congressionally appointed sergeant at arms, Congress itself and an inspector general.
May: In a budget hearing for Capitol Police, Wasserman Schultz starts asking Capitol Police Chief Matthew R. Verderosa why they confiscated a laptop related to the case and how she can get it back. "If the equipment belongs to the member, it has been lost, they say it’s been lost and it’s been identified as that member’s, then the Capitol Police are supposed to return it." When the police chief says she can't have it back because there's an ongoing investigation related to it, she appears genuinely frustrated and says: “I think you're violating the rules when you conduct your business that way and you should expect that there will be consequences.”
She later told the Sun-Sentinel she was asking about Awan's laptop: “He accidentally left it somewhere.”
Week of July 24: Awan's legal troubles deepen. The FBI arrests him at a D.C.-area airport on his way to Pakistan. Fox News's Chad Pergram first reports it, and conservative Daily Caller fleshes out the story.
Awan was arrested while attempting to board a flight after wiring $283,00 to the country. His wife and their three children are already in Pakistan. An affidavit obtained by the Daily Caller alleges they tried to trick their bank, the Congressional Federal Credit Union, into giving them a second mortgage for a rental property by claiming it was their primary residency.
The FBI accuses Awan of trying to flee the country, but his lawyer later tells The Washington Post he had no intention of fleeing; he had bought a round-trip ticket and applied for unpaid leave from work. Awan pleads not guilty.
Same week: Immediately following the charges, Wasserman Schultz's office says Awan is fired.
Same week: The chairwoman of the Republican National Committee starts going on TV to question why Wasserman Schultz hadn't fired Awan earlier, when he was accused of stealing House equipment.
“Debbie Wasserman Schultz has obstructed at every level on something that affects potentially our national security,” Ronna McDaniel says on Fox Business. She and other conservative groups call for Congress to hold hearings and Wasserman Schultz to testify.
The RNC sends emails to local media of the 30 Democratic lawmakers who had hired Awan or the other staffers, explaining the case and urging them to ask their lawmakers questions when they're back home for the August break.
Same week: Trump retweets this.
A week after Awan's arrest: A conservative group files a complaint with the House's independent ethics committee alleging Wasserman Schultz broke House rules by allowing Awan to stay on after he was banned from the House system.
Wasserman Schultz's office issues a statement calling the complaint “baseless” because they worked with House officials to make sure they were following the rules to keep him on to do things like help troubleshoot printers.
“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,” says Wasserman Schultz spokesman David Damron.
The Washington Post broke the story of the ethics complaint.
Aug. 3: Wall Street Journal columnist Kimberly Strassel calls attention to the drama by pointing out how much money Awan and his relatives were making. “The government, under the inattentive care of Democrats, may have been bilked for ages by a man the FBI has alleged to be a fraudster.” Awan, his wife and their relatives were each making roughly $150,000 in annual salary working for more than two dozen House Democrats. Politico calculated Awan had earned more than $2 million since he started working for House Democrats in 2004.
Aug. 3: Wasserman Schultz gives her first interview to the media. She tells the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel that she had initially only commented on the arrest via a spokesman since she had been on vacation. And she stands by her decision not to fire Awan after he was accused of stealing House equipment: “I believe that I did the right thing, and I would do it again,” she says.
Meanwhile, Awan must stay within 50 miles of his Lorton home while he faces the bank fraud charges.
We will update this post as news develops.