Federal prosecutors on Tuesday publicly debunked conspiracy theories pushed by President Donald Trump and right-wing media that a former Democratic aide charged with bank fraud was actually a foreign spy trying to steal government secrets.
In a plea deal with Imran Awan, who worked as an information technology aide for Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., and other Democratic lawmakers, prosecutors said they had conducted "a thorough investigation" into claims that Awan stole information from government servers on behalf of another country while working for House Democrats, but reported that they found no evidence to support the conspiracy theories.
"The Government agrees that the public allegations that (Awan) stole U.S. House of Representatives equipment and engaged in unauthorized or illegal conduct involving House computer systems do not form the basis of any conduct relevant to the determination of the sentence in this case," prosecutors said.
David Damron, a spokesman for Wasserman Schultz, said on Tuesday that the lawmaker was pleased with the result of the investigation and that prosecutors had publicly shot down the conspiracy theories.
"We rely on our justice system to produce a fair result, after a considered, objective review," Damron said in a statement. "That role is even more important at a time when Donald Trump and his allies spread dangerous distortions with the intent of falsely smearing his political opponents."
The claims that Awan was improperly siphoning government data while working as a Democratic aide and storing it off-site on behalf of another country began on internet forums and was later spread by right-wing news outlets. The allegations then gained even more steam after Trump tweeted about the case twice earlier this year.
Trump referred to Awan as the "Pakistani mystery man" in an April tweet attacking Democrats and Wasserman Shultz.
"Just heard the Campaign was sued by the Obstructionist Democrats. This can be good news in that we will now counter for the DNC Server that they refused to give to the FBI, the Debbie Wasserman Schultz Servers and Documents held by the Pakistani mystery man and Clinton Emails," the president wrote.
In June, Trump tweeted that the government "must not let Awan ... off the hook" and suggested the Democrats' server was missing.
"Our Justice Department must not let Awan & Debbie Wasserman Schultz off the hook. 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!" Trump tweeted.
Officials said Awan and his wife, Hina Alvi, defrauded the Congressional Federal Credit Union for $165,000 by lying on a home equity loan application, according to federal court documents. He was arrested last year at at Dulles International Airport trying to fly to Lahore, Pakistan.
Awan, 38, pleaded guilty to lying on the loan application and likely faces six months or less in jail. His wife left the U.S. last year.
To probe the conspiracy theories, prosecutors said they seized the server used by the House Democratic caucus, along with computers and other electronic devices and performed a forensic analysis. They also interviewed roughly 40 witnesses, according to the plea agreement.
"The Government has uncovered no evidence that your client violated federal law with respect to the House computer systems," says the plea agreement, addressed to Awan's lawyer. "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."
Chris Gowen, Awan's lawyer, blasted the president and the conservative media in a statement.
"This case illustrates the real and tragic human consequences of a right-wing media operation that today goes far beyond mere political opportunism," Gowen said. "There has never been any missing server, smashed hard drives, blackmailed members of Congress, or breach of classified information."
He added, "Like so many irresponsible, misleading, or simply untrue tweets from the president, this allegation displayed a complete lack of respect for law enforcement. The president obviously knew from the beginning of this investigation that law enforcement was in possession of the House Democratic server."