Fringe media and Fox News push conspiracy theories regarding arrested former House IT staffer

Fringe media and Fox News push conspiracy theories regarding arrested former House IT staffer

››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN & BRENDAN KARET

Following the arrest of former Democratic information technology staffer Imran Awan, far-right media and Fox News pushed multiple conspiracy theories about him, suggesting he was behind WikiLeaks getting hacked Democratic National Committee (DNC) emails, that he had damaging information on House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, and that the Clintons were somehow involved in the situation.


Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

House IT aide working for Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz arrested at airport on bank fraud charges

CBS: Schultz fires IT worker Imran Awan, who was arrested on bank fraud. Imran Awan, an information technology worker who worked for Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), was “arrested on charges of bank fraud at Dulles International Airport as he was attempting to travel to Pakistan,” according to CBS News. Awan’s attorney said Schultz fired Awan following the arrest. From the July 26 article:

A former information technology staffer for Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz on Monday was arrested on charges of bank fraud at Dulles International Airport as he was attempting to travel to Pakistan.

Imran Awan, 37, of Lorton, Virginia, pleaded not guilty to one charge of bank fraud during a Tuesday arraignment at the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. According to the court, Awan was granted permission to return to his home under specific conditions, including obeying a strict curfew, wearing a GPS monitoring device, giving up his passports and staying within a 50-mile radius of his home. Awan was fired by office of the former chair of the DNC on Tuesday, according to his attorney Chris Gowen.

Awan is accused of trying to defraud Congressional Federal Credit Union, a popular bank for Capitol Hill staffers, by misrepresenting a home (sic) $165,000 home equity loan he attempted to obtain for a piece of rental property. FBI Special Agent Brandon Merriman, who penned the charging document, stated in an affidavit that Awan and his wife, Hina Alvi, misrepresented the property for which the loan was to be granted, identifying it as a "principal residence." According to Merriman, the credit union does not normally issue home equity loans for rental properties. [CBS News, 7/26/17]

Far-right media and Fox News use Awan’s arrest to push conspiracies about DNC hack, Nancy Pelosi, and the Clintons

Fox’s Geraldo Rivera pushes conspiracy theory that Awan gave Wikileaks hacked DNC emails: “What if Russia wasn't involved in the loop at all?” Fox correspondent Geraldo Rivera used Awan’s arrest to ask on Hannity, “What if this guy gave it to WikiLeaks? What if Russia wasn't involved in the loop at all?” Host Sean Hannity joined Rivera in promoting this conspiracy theory, asking, “If you can prove disgruntled Democrats in fact were the leakers and not the Russians as Julian Assange has said ... doesn't that blow the whole thing out of the water?” From the July 25 edition of Fox News’ Hannity:

GERALDO RIVERA: I think, Sean, that what we should ignore right now is everything but this story of Imran Awan, this 37-year-old Pakistani IT expert, who has been at the side of Debbie Wasserman Schultz through her entire tenure as the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee --

SEAN HANNITY (HOST): Overpaid.

RIVERA: Trying to destroy computers, arrested at Dulles airport last night trying to flee the country. His brother and some associates and his family have already fled the country. What were they trying to destroy? Why was Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a congresswoman, why was she putting pressure on Capitol Police to get her computers back? They seized those computers.

Here, just take this quick scenario: We know that one of the big scandals is her -- her emails were leaked, her emails that showed that she and the DNC were favoring Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton. WikiLeaks published those emails. What was WikiLeaks' source? Everyone has assumed that it was the Russians who gave Wiki -- who hacked the DNC, and then gave WikiLeaks that information. What if it was --

HANNITY: He told me personally, five times, it wasn’t a state or Russia.

RIVERA: Well, maybe he was telling the truth, because --

HANNITY: Well, wait a minute. WikiLeaks has not been proven wrong in their information in 11 years, not one time.

RIVERA: Well, now you have a possible suspect. Here's the corrupt IT guy, standing at the shoulder of Debbie Wasserman Schultz, arrested at the airport trying to flee, charged with stealing hundreds of thousands, maybe millions of dollars -- what if he was the source to WikiLeaks? He has all the passcodes, he has the passwords, he has all of the information.

HANNITY: Geraldo, wait a minute. I think it's deeper than that.

RIVERA: This is a huge story.

HANNITY: Here’s my theory, real quick. My theory is maybe Debbie Wasserman Schultz didn't want to be exposed, which is why they smashed the hard drives. She didn’t want -- and remember --

RIVERA: Of course.

HANNITY: -- what happened on the eve -- because she knows she colluded against Bernie Sanders. She knows the primary was rigged.

RIVERA: That’s the -- that's the easy part, that they colluded against Bernie Sanders. What if they were the source for WikiLeaks? What if the whole of the Russiagate story now hinges on this now investigation? The guy is now charged.

HANNITY: Bingo.

RIVERA: His passport has been seized, his family has already fled, he has got an ankle monitor on. What if this investigation really shows who is the source of that information?

MONICA CROWLEY: Right.

HANNITY: Geraldo, I have been talking about this all day, and with some important people here today. If you can prove disgruntled Democrats in fact were the leakers and not the Russians as Julian Assange has said -- believe him, don’t believe him, I don’t care what, whether you do or not -- doesn't that blow the whole thing out of the water?

RIVERA: I think that this investigation into this Pakistani fellow who tried to flee the country and was arrested at the airport -- I mean, don't bury that. That’ a huge thing, her key IT guy --

[...]

RIVERA: What if they gave it to WikiLeaks? What if this guy gave it to WikiLeaks? What if Russia wasn't involved in the loop at all? [Fox News, Hannity7/25/17]

Frequent Fox guest attempts to connect fired IT staffer to DNC emails going to Wikileaks. In a July 26 appearance on Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Tonight, frequent Fox guest Mark Steyn claimed that after Awan’s arrest, “you no longer need to worry about whether Vladimir Putin gave all the DNC emails to the Wikileaks guy,” adding that “there’s so much collusion going on here that Debbie actually colluded with the guy fleeing to Lahore.” From the July 26 edition of Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Tonight:

MARK STEYN: Occam's razor would suggest that the reason that she kept him on was that because she was additionally head of the DNC, he had too much on her. That's the basic explanation.

He knew her iPad password, which means, by the way, you no longer need to worry about whether Vladimir Putin gave all the DNC emails to the WikiLeaks guy at the Colombian Embassy or whatever it is in London.

TUCKER CARLSON (HOST): Right.

STEYN: Never mind that. The fellow arrested at Dulles airport trying to flee back to Lahore actually had Debbie Wasserman Schultz's password, and there's so much collusion going on here that Debbie actually colluded with the guy fleeing to Lahore by giving him the password herself.

So, if -- if in his ever-expanding investigation, Bob Mueller would like something else to set his 37 Hillary donors to work on, they can wrap this thing up in the next 48 hours, because it's all staring them in the face. [Fox News, Tucker Carlson Tonight7/26/17]

Fake news purveyor Mad World News: Seth Rich is “link[ed]” to Awan. Fake news purveyor Mad World News claimed that Rod Wheeler showed a link between Seth “Rich’s murder, the DNC, Clinton campaign, and the Awan brothers.” According to the article, “Wheeler has uncovered that, while the Awan brothers were hacking into the DNC servers, Rich was emailing WikiLeaks.” From the July 27 article:

Now, we come to the bombshell accusation made by Detective Rod Wheeler. One thing must be clearly pointed out first; Wasserman Schultz, at this point, is involved in a cover-up for the Awan brothers. She is protecting Muslim men who hacked into the DNC server and obtained classified information from the Senate Intel Committee.

Rod Wheeler is a retired veteran homicide detective hired by the family of murdered DNC staffer Seth Rich, who was a subordinate of Debbie Wasserman Schultz at the time of his death. Wheeler has uncovered that, while the Awan brothers were hacking into the DNC servers, Rich was emailing WikiLeaks.

[...]

“I have a source inside the police department that has looked at me straight in the eye and said, ‘Rod, we were told to stand down on this case and I can’t share any information with you.’ Now, that is highly unusual for a murder investigation, especially from a police department. Again, I don’t think it comes from the chief’s office, but I do believe there is a correlation between the mayor’s office and the DNC and that is the information that will come out soon,” said Wheeler back in May 2017.

It’s looking like Wasserman Schultz is the linchpin linking Rich’s murder, the DNC, Clinton campaign, and the Awan brothers. She’s involved with all three as the former Chairman of the DNC. Her threatening behavior toward the Capitol Police Chief was bizarre, but now, it is making sense. Debbie Wasserman Schultz has now lawyered up and has gone into hiding, but hiding won’t make Detective Wheeler or these incredible accusations go away. [Mad World News, 7/27/17; Media Matters, 12/14/16]

The Gateway Pundit and radio host Bill Mitchell: “DC Detective of Seth Rich Murder: Follow the Awan Arrest Closely – Connect the Dots to 'Other' Cases.” In an article titled “DC Detective of Seth Rich Murder: Follow the Awan Arrest Closely - Connect the Dots to ‘Other’ Cases,” Jim Hoft of the pro-Trump blog The Gateway Pundit cited tweets from Fox contributor Rod Wheeler and claimed, “This could be huge.” Pro-Trump radio host Bill Mitchell later tweeted out the article. From the July 26 article:

Also in May Rod Wheeler told reporters there was evidence Seth Rich was emailing Wikileaks. Wheeler made the stunning accusation without having access to Seth Rich’s computer.

Now this…

Washington DC area detective Rod Wheeler tweeted out about the arrest of Imran Awan.

[...]

Rod Wheeler then told his Twitter followers there may be a connection to Imran Awan’s arrest and “other” local cases.

[...]

This could be huge. [The Gateway Pundit, 7/26/17; Media Matters, 5/5/17; Twitter, 7/26/17]

Fake news purveyor The Political Insider: “DC Detective Rod Wheeler Suggests Connection Between Imran Awan And Seth Rich.” Fake news purveyor The Political Insider claimed that Fox contributor Rod Wheeler suggested a “connection between Imran Awan and Seth Rich.” From the July 27 article:

Earlier this week Imran Awan, a top aide for former DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, was arrested while trying to flee the country after wiring nearly $300,000 to Pakistan from a House office building.

But D.C. detective Rod Wheeler has suggested that Awan might be guilty of more than just bank fraud.

[...]

The family of murdered DNC staffer Seth Rich hired Wheeler back in March to help solve the murder of their son. Unfortunately, Wheeler told Sean Hannity in May that a “high ranking official at the DNC” was blocking him from doing his job:

[...]

Do you think Imran Awan knows information about Seth Rich’s murder? Do you think Debbie Wasserman Schultz does? Share your comments below! [The Political Insider, 7/27/17; Media Matters, 12/14/16]

Fake news purveyor Right Wing News: “Wikileaks Connects Nancy Pelosi to Wasserman’s Fleeing Staffer Imran Awan.” In an article titled “Wikileaks Connects Nancy Pelosi to Wasserman’s Fleeing Staffer Imran Awan,” fake news purveyor Right Wing News.com wrote, “Pelosi is the House Minority Leader and now that Imran has been found to have attempted to flee the country, the next big news that must be released is whether he did indeed expose White House information online.” From the July 26 article:

According to the leaked emails, we now have proof that Imran had access to Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s iPad.

Pelosi is the House Minority Leader and now that Imran has been found to have attempted to flee the country, the next big news that must be released is whether he did indeed expose White House information online. Clearly the Democrats were comfortable with Imran using Pelosi’s iPad, which would be connected to her desktop, laptop and phone. And since he was fleeing the country, he must have known that he was going to be caught. With such an obvious scandal, you’d think the mainstream media would — no, of course not.

The only media sources who want to talk about this are the independent right wing sites. Which means it’s important for us to bring this up during the next political conversation we have with a leftie. Ask them if they’ve heard of this, and make sure to tell them about what Julian Assange said. They loved Assange when he was leaking state military secrets, but now that he’s exposing Democrats? Not a word. [Right Wing News, 7/26/17; Media Matters, 12/14/16]

Fake news purveyor Conservative Tribune: “Arrested Pakistani IT Guy Given Terrifying Item by Pelosi.” In an article titled “Breaking: Arrested Pakistani IT Guy Given Terrifying Item by Pelosi,” fake news provider ConservativeTribune.com wrote, “The question has now become, how long has Awan had access to devices used by leaders and members of the Democrat party, and exactly what did he do with the information contained therein?” From the July 26 article:

The Gateway Pundit noted that Julian Assange of WikiLeaks on Tuesday posted to his Twitter account a portion of an email showing that Awan had access to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s iPad, a device that likely held state secrets and other sensitive information.

[...]

Though it is entirely possible that Pelosi was unaware of the IT staffer who was presumably doing routine maintenance on her iPad, considering the fact that Awan worked on Capitol Hill for years and provided IT service for dozens of Democrat lawmakers, it is equally as likely that she was acquainted with or at least aware of Awan.

[...]

The question has now become, how long has Awan had access to devices used by leaders and members of the Democrat party, and exactly what did he do with the information contained therein? [Conservative Tribune, 7/26/17; Media Matters, 7/24/17]

Fake news purveyor Liberty Writers: “The Email That Just Leaked About Nancy Pelosi Will Bring Her Down For Good.” In an article titled “HEADS WILL ROLL: The Email That Just Leaked About Nancy Pelosi Will Bring Her Down For Good,” fake news purveyor Liberty Writers referenced Imran Awan’s arrest, writing, “This is the person that had access to Nancy Pelosi’s iPad. As much as the Democrats rail against Trump about Russia, there is something fishy happening between them and the Awan brothers.” From the July 26 article:

The mainstream media is practically blacking out the Awan brothers story that we at Liberty Writers has been covering all day. You can read more here. Nobody is covering how it connects to Nancy Pelosi.

[...]

Awan has pled not guilty to the courts of bank fraud. This is the person that had access to Nancy Pelosi’s iPad. As much as the Democrats rail against Trump about Russia, there is something fishy happening between them and the Awan brothers. [Liberty Writers, 7/26/17, 10/11/16; Snopes, 10/12/16]

Fake news purveyor World Politicus: “Pelosi Caught Giving Top Secret Item To Arrested Pakistani IT Staffer.” In an article titled “Breaking: Pelosi Caught Giving Top Secret Item To Arrested Pakistani IT Staffer,” fake news purveyor World Politicus referenced a leaked DNC email asking a staffer to get an “iPad for Imran,” writing, “It is not the first time Pelosi has been in trouble for leaking information. Maybe it is about time we start paying more attention to what she is doing.” From the July 26 article:

Wikileaks just posted a portion of an email. This is an email that shows Awan had access to Nancy Pelosi’s iPad which surely held state secrets.

[...]

Though it is possible that Pelosi had no idea Awan would be doing work on her iPad, there is a good probability that she did. He did IT work routinely for many Democratic lawmakers and acquainted himself with many.

This is a good indication that people knew what he was doing. He was just really good at putting on a good face.

[...]

Obviously more needs to be done to ensure that this kind of stuff does not happen in the future. It is not the first time Pelosi has been in trouble for leaking information. Maybe it is about time we start paying more attention to what she is doing. [World Politicus, 7/26/17; PolitiFact, 7/11/17]

Fake news purveyor America’s Freedom Fighters: “Muslim IT Staffer Now DIRECTLY Tied To Bill And Hillary Clinton, It’s A COVER UP!!!” In an article titled “BREAKING: Proof That Muslim IT Staffer DIRECTLY Tied To Bill And Hillary Clinton, It’s A COVER UP!!!,” fake news purveyor americasfreedomfighters.com referenced Awan’s arrest, then claimed that “it appears as if the Clintons are now involved, and trying to do their best to keep this thing under wraps, which begs the question of just how bad this situation really is.” From the July 26 article:

The story about Imran Awan, the Muslim IT staffer who worked for the DNC, just keeps getting worse and worse.

[...]

Now, the plot has thickened even further after learning who he has hired for an attorney, and it can’t be coincidental. In fact, it reeks of cronyism and corruption, and of course the Clintons have their hands all over it.

[...]

So yeah, it appears as if the Clintons are now involved, and trying to do their best to keep this thing under wraps, which begs the question of just how bad this situation really is. [America’s Freedom Fighters, 7/26/17; Media Matters, 12/14/16]

After some media push conspiracy theories, Fox correspondent asks at press conference if Trump is “aware” of Awan’s arrest and “satisfied with the pace of the investigation”

Fox White House correspondent Kevin Corke asked whether Trump knows about the investigation into the IT staffer during the WH press briefing. At the July 27 White House press briefing, Fox News White House correspondent Kevin Corke asked press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders if Trump is “aware” of Imran Awan’s recent arrest, and if Trump “is satisfied with the pace of the investigation” surrounding Awan”:

KEVIN CORKE: Is the president aware of the story of the IT staff, the congressional IT staffer who most recently worked for Florida congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Imran Awan who was recently arrested attempting to leave the country, although he said he was not trying to flee the country. Is the president aware of that particular circumstance and is he satisfied with the pace of the investigation?

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS: I haven't had a conversation with him specifically about that. But I do think it is something we should fully look into and there should be a thorough investigation. [White House press briefing, 7/27/17]

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