The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Trump’s own Justice Department reprimands his conspiracy theorizing

Imran Awan, a Pakistani American IT worker, on Sept. 13, 2017. (Bonnie Jo Mount/The Washington Post)

A month ago, when news of a potential plea deal for former Democratic House staffer Imran Awan began to bubble up, President Trump took to Twitter to cry foul.

“Our Justice Department must not let Awan & Debbie Wasserman Schultz off the hook,” he wrote. “The Democrat I.T. 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. Where is Server? Really bad!”

That same Justice Department's response today? To issue a subtle but stinging rebuke of Trump and his cohorts who pushed conspiracy theories about Awan.

As The Washington Post's Shawn Boburg and Spencer S. Hsu report, federal prosecutors slipped a rather pregnant little section into their plea deal with Awan — a section that effectively rebuts Trump's and the conservative Daily Caller's theories about Awan without directly naming either of them:

Particularly, 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.

Each of those accusations can be linked to conspiratorial reporting and suggestions about the actions of Awan, a Pakistani American whom Trump once suggestively labeled the “Pakistani mystery man.” They do not directly deal with any criminal charges lodged against Awan, but prosecutors put them in there anyway — clearly wanting to dispatch with their own president's and his media allies' conspiratorial ideas, for good measure. The section could be read as more a rebuke of conservative media outlets than of Trump, but Trump was barking up the very same trees.

To be clear, the paragraph comes after an 18-month investigation undertaken not just by Trump's Justice Department but also by his own nominee in U.S. attorney Jessie K. Liu. As part of the deal, Awan pleaded guilty to making a false statement on a bank loan application, a charge for which prosecutors will not recommend jail time.

About a year ago, Trump began hinting at potentially treasonous actions and a broader scandal involving Awan. Conservative outlets had been on the case for months, fueled by Awan's ties to Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), a preeminent GOP bogeywoman who used to run the Democratic National Committee. When Awan was arrested just before boarding a plane for Pakistan, the intrigue only grew — even though he was charged not with conspiring, but with bank fraud.

The whole thing fit neatly into Trump's conspiratorial, deep-state allegations about the Russia investigation, in addition to his clear doubts about his own intelligence community's explanations about the DNC hack during the 2016 election.

Trump is unlikely to take his medicine and admit he oversold the prospect of an Awan scandal. Indeed, one of the features of conspiracy theories is that every rebuke just becomes the latest evidence of a supposed coverup. The report's release coincided with Trump lodging an entirely new technology-related conspiracy theory — this one about the National Security Agency deleting 685 million phone calls and text messages that were obtained from telecommunications companies as part of various investigations.

“Wow! The NSA has deleted 685 million phone calls and text messages,” Trump tweeted. “Privacy violations? They blame technical irregularities. Such a disgrace. The Witch Hunt continues!”

If anything, it shows Trump is happy to keep lodging accusations at his own government, regardless of how flimsy the facts that undergird them are and that they may one day be revealed as nonsense.

It also shows those around him — and even those he has appointed — increasingly feel the need to do something about it.