Federal prosecutors on Tuesday debunked a long-running conspiracy theory promoted by President Trump and right-wing blog The Daily Caller, firmly declaring a former congressional IT staffer of Pakistani birth innocent of a slew of trumped up espionage and computer related crimes.
Imran Awan, a former IT specialist for Democratic lawmakers, including U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, became over several months this year the focus of a smear job led by the Caller and echoed by the president of the United States. In more than dozen stories, the right-wing blog, founded by Fox News host Tucker Carlson, attempted to tie Awan to a wide range of alleged criminal activity, including unauthorized access to government servers, which is a felony.
This April, the Caller took the plunge into spy novel territory when it reported the alleged delivery of a mysterious USB drive by Awan’s father to Pakistani intelligence. Luke Rosiak, the blogger who led the Caller’s investigation into Awan, told Fox News that the affair was “straight out of James Bond.”
Awan was arrested in July 2017 at Dulles International Airport in Washington, D.C., and charged with bank fraud in connection with a $165,000 home equity loan.
U.S. prosecutors took the unusual step Tuesday of clearing Awan of any espionage or hacking related charges—though they had never accused him of such—noting the numerous “public allegations” against him.
According to the Washington Post, prosecutors wrote in a plea agreement that it had “uncovered no evidence” that Awan “violated federal law with respect to the House computer systems.” That includes “stealing equipment or illegally accessing or transferring information,” the Post reported.
The prosecutors wrote that a “thorough investigation” was completed, clearing Awan of the allegations raised by Caller, though the site was not identified by name. The investigation included “forensic analysis of computer equipment and other devices, log-on usage data, and interviews with about 40 witnesses,” according to the Post.
President Trump also joined the smearing of Awan, suggesting in an April tweet that he was somehow tied to the 2016 hacking of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) server, urging the Justice Department to not let Awan “off the hook.” (The U.S. intelligence community has assessed with high confidence that the DNC breach was directed by Russia.)
In his tweet, Trump labeled Awan “the Pakistani mystery man,” a nickname picked up by the Caller. (Awan is a U.S. citizen originally from Pakistan.)
At the close of an 18-month investigation, Awan pleaded guilty to no more than the minor offense of making a false statement on a bank loan application, for which prosecutors are declining to recommend any jail time.
In an interview with the Post, Awaz questioned whether the case against him would have even been pursued had his name not been Pakistani and accused Trump of using him to advance a political agenda.
“This has cost me my reputation, my livelihood, my family,” he told the paper. “I can’t believe this.”