Federal prosecutors blew up one of the right-wing media’s most hyped conspiracy theories on Tuesday, saying that they had investigated and debunked claims that a House Democratic staffer, not Russian hackers, had stolen the Democratic emails published by WikiLeaks.
Former IT staffer Imran Awan pleaded guilty Tuesday to making a false statement on a home equity loan, which the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia said likely carries a six-month prison sentence.
Normally, a Democratic staffer pleading guilty to any crime would be big news on the right. But Awan’s guilty plea is a letdown for conservatives, who had become convinced that Awan was involved in something much more nefarious than bank fraud.
Led by reporting from the Daily Caller News Foundation, Republicans suspected that Awan was somehow involved in data leaks to either Russia or Pakistan. In July 2017, Fox News’s Geraldo Rivera and Sean Hannity speculated that Awan had used his access to Democratic servers to leak the emails from Democratic National Committee leader Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz that were published by WikiLeaks in 2016.
The Inspector General’s Office of the House found that Awan and four other IT staffers had accessed congressional computers without authorization. Far from spying, the Washington Post reported investigators “instead found that the workers were using one congressional server as if it were their home computer, storing personal information such as children’s homework and family photos,” according to an official.
Nevertheless, Daily Caller News Foundation reporter Luke Rosiak said that the Awan story was proof that “Congress was hacked.”
“It basically destroys that Russian narrative just because it shows that they [Democrats] didn’t actually care about cyber-security and they haven’t responded to this,” Rosiak said in April on Fox Business.
That conspiracy appeals to President Trump’s supporters because, like the rival conspiracy that the emails were leaked by murdered DNC staffer Seth Rich, it would theoretically mean that Russian hackers weren’t behind the email hacks after all.
Even Trump got in on the action, calling Awan a ‘Pakistani mystery man’ on Twitter.
But, according to the Justice Department, there’s nothing to the idea that Awan leaked emails or any other data. Awan’s plea agreement includes a specific passage saying that prosecutors investigated the claims that he leaked data or stole technology from the House, but after interviews with 40 witnesses and reviews of the House Democratic Caucus’s server they came up empty.
“The Government has uncovered no evidence that your client violated federal law with respect to the House computer systems,” the plea agreement reads. “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.”
Correction: This article previously said The Daily Caller dubbed Awan the ‘Pakistani mystery man’ and that it had said he worked with WikiLeaks.