by Luke Rosiak
- Democrat Rep. Yvette Clarke’s chief of staff tried reported that Abid Awan and the New York congresswoman’s other top aides were part of what the staffer thought was a theft ring, sources say.
- Clarke waited to fire Abid until he was under scrutiny from House officials for other allegations.
- Even then, Clarke regretted firing him, sources say.
Rep. Yvette Clarke’s deputy chief of staff came into the office on a Saturday in December 2015 and caught the New York Democrat’s part-time IT aide, Abid Awan, rummaging through the congresswoman’s work area with new iPods and other equipment strewn around the room, according to a House document and interviews with Hill staff.
Wendy Anderson told Abid to get out of the office, the document said. She told Capitol Hill investigators that she soon suspected Clarke’s chief of staff, Shelley Davis, was working with Abid on a theft scheme, multiple House staffers with knowledge of the situation told The Daily Caller News Foundation. They also said that Anderson pushed for Abid’s firing.
But Clarke did not fire Abid until six months after the congresswoman formally acknowledged that $120,000 in equipment was missing, records show — not until after House investigators independently announced a review that would potentially catch financial discrepancies. Even then, Anderson told investigators she believed another top staffer in Clarke’s office was subverting their efforts, a House staffer with knowledge of the investigation said.
Four months later, Anderson took a job with another congressional office. Clarke’s office declined to say under what terms she left.
Abid — known in the office as Omar — and his brothers, fellow IT workers Imran Awan and Jamal Awan, are suspected of making “unauthorized access” to congressional servers during the 2016 election and of running a theft scheme, according to the House Inspector General (IG). Together, the family had access to all the emails and files of 1 in 5 House Democrats.
House Chief Administrative Officer Phil Kiko testified in a public hearing in April that “the House IG discovered evidence of procurement fraud and irregularities [and] numerous violations of House security policies” by the Awans. The alleged procurement fraud included submitting suspicious invoices to bill equipment to House offices.
Each invoice requires sign-offs from chiefs of staff or congressmen. House office budgets are tight enough that unnecessary purchases would be hard to miss, three chiefs of staff told TheDCNF.
A Feb. 3, 2017 letter from Kiko and the House’s top law enforcement officer, Sergeant-At-Arms Paul Irving, to the Committee on House Administration — kept secret by the House, but obtained by TheDCNF — quotes from notes on an interview with Anderson:
Coming in on a Saturday and finding Omar in the office with equipment everywhere. She stated, ‘it looked like Christmas with Apple TV’s, iPods, etc. scattered around the room.’ She stated that Omar told her ‘these items were not her office’s equipment but they belonged to another office.’ She told him to get them out of her member’s office.
One House staffer who said Anderson confided in them told TheDCNF of the views she expressed: “She knew it was obviously stolen … What business case would they have had for iPods? … He’s a shared employee, basically a contractor. Why would he be camped out … in her personal office?”
“Wendy was actually a truth-sayer, she wanted the right things to happen, enforce rules, and Yvette Clarke did not,” the staffer continued.
Anderson was promoted to chief of staff soon after she encountered Abid in Clarke’s office near Christmas 2015. Her predecessor, Davis, departed the payroll on Feb. 11, 2016.
Once Anderson became responsible for the office’s finances, she found that Clarke’s office had for years been ordering abnormal quantities of equipment, much with seemingly dubious business value, she later told House investigators, according to multiple congressional officials with knowledge of the probe who spoke with TheDCNF. After some investigating, Anderson told investigators she believed Davis was working with Abid to steal taxpayer funds, the officials said.
“She thought that Shelley and Omar had too tight of a relationship,” one said. “She’d been going through old email and could see that it basically smacked of Omar was ordering stuff for Shelley and there was no business reason.” Anderson gave House officials copies of those emails, the source said.
“She said to Abid, ‘I want to do an inventory of the office,’ and he couldn’t come up with $120,000 [in equipment], so he said, ‘Oh I don’t know, people lost it,” the source said.
The sum amounted to one-tenth of the office’s entire annual budget.
A lawyer for Abid’s brother Imran, Aaron Marr Page, later addressed the situation in Clarke’s office: “An outgoing chief of staff who — I don’t remember the guy’s name off the top of my head, but I think there was potentially some issues there… There may be cases on Capitol Hill of other people — certainly not Imran — who are enriching themselves who are taking devices.”
Davis answered a phone call from TheDCNF on his cell phone, but hung up after hearing Abid’s name and then apparently blocked TheDCNF’s phone number.
Clarke’s office wrote off the $120,000 of missing equipment in February 2016. A write-off is an accounting practice used to remove financial errors from the books without actually correcting the problem.
Under House rules, if a Congress member can’t account for office funds, he or she may be personally liable.
By April 2016, Chief Administrative Officer Kiko independently noticed financial anomalies in multiple congressional offices that employed Abid. He told the Administration committee, and by September the committee’s top Democratic staffer, Jamie Fleet, told employing offices that authorities would be auditing financial records connected to the Awan family, a committee source told TheDCNF.
It was only then that Clarke’s office told the committee of the circumstances surrounding the missing equipment, and House authorities began working with Clarke’s office to investigate the Awans’ activities.
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan spokeswoman AshLee Strong told TheDCNF the Capitol Police “requested that the shared employees be allowed to continue to use their IT credentials until [February 2017] because they didn’t want to tip off the employees.”
But Anderson soon concluded that the investigation was compromised because another high-level staffer based in New York was feeding information about authorities’ activities to Abid, a House staffer Anderson spoke with in detail about the situation told TheDCNF.
“Her district office chief, a female, was actively going against Wendy,” the staffer said. “She was good friends with Omar and was feeding him information. Clarke would tell this person and the woman was backdooring stuff to Omar. She was undermining the investigation.” Anderson told that to House investigators as well, the staffer said.
TheDCNF laid out Anderson’s allegations in this story — including that she presented evidence that Davis was involved in a fraud scheme, that Clarke declined to fire Abid for months despite Anderson’s urging, and that the office for years ordered abnormal quantities of equipment that was not present in the office — to Clarke’s spokeswoman, Christine Bennett. Bennett addressed only one, involving the suggestion that District Director Anita Taylor tampered with the investigation: “Anita Taylor vehemently denies the accusations made against her,” she said.
Clarke is up for re-election in her Brooklyn district’s primary on June 26. She is also a member of the House Committee on Ethics.
Investigators eventually interviewed Abid about the missing equipment. He blamed Clarke staffers for some and claimed the office never received others, according to a House IG presentation dated Sept. 20, 2016 that also says:
75 pieces of equipment with a purchase price of $118,416 were recently written off the House inventory for a member because one of the subjects could not produce them
- Shared employee stated that the items were never received, shouldn’t have been inventoried, or the staff lost the equipment
- However, equipment could not be on inventory or have asset tag unless it had arrived in office and EIN [Equipment Identification Number, a form that must be signed for a piece of equipment to be paid for] had been signed
- Missing equipment includes laptops, iPads, TVs, video conferencing equipment, and computers
Clarke gave Abid the passwords to many of her personal and professional web accounts — including those for her personal credit cards — and the Democrat’s staff were concerned that he would retaliate, according to a House staffer Anderson spoke with about the situation in detail. In the days before he was finally fired on Sept. 19, 2016, a carefully-orchestrated operation took place in which House security personnel changed Clarke’s passwords and the lock on a storage locker she used, the staffer said.
“That night, after they told him that he was fired, Wendy went to the office late at night and Clarke’s office door was a little open and she felt like someone was on the other side of the door. She ran out of the office frightened,” the staffer told TheDCNF.
Even then, Clarke repeatedly spoke about her former part-time computer guy, saying she felt she needed to undo the firing, Anderson told that staffer.
Anderson continued to express concern about what she viewed as Capitol Hill crimes that seemed to be resulting in little action. Soon after, she moved to a different office — that of newly-elected Florida Rep. Val Demings.
After Abid was fired by Clarke, Abid was hired by new congressmen in early 2017, payroll records show: Democrats Stephanie Murphy and Darren Soto of Florida, and Lisa Blunt Rochester of Delaware. In February 2017, his family was banned from the network.
The Department of Justice has not charged Davis or Abid with any crime. TheDCNF has no way of corroborating whether what Anderson told investigators is true. However, the voluminous evidence the House IG possessed, combined with the lack of charges, has led some Republicans to allege a cover-up.
“The FBI has had the opportunity to have those invoices presented to them, and each time they have instructed, ‘Don’t bring any of those documents,’” Texas Rep. Louie Gohmert, a member of the House Judiciary Committee, said on the House floor, quoting what the FBI told him about the case. “They continue to report … ‘We’ve still found no evidence’ … Why? Because they’ve instructed, ‘We don’t want to see those documents.’”
A senior Republican congressional official with direct knowledge of the probe previously told TheDCNF, “The only reason you’re not seeing charges is because the Democrats who employed him are not cooperating.”
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Luke Rosiak is a reporter at Daily Caller News Foundation. Follow Luke on Twitter.