Right-wing conspiracy theorists claimed that a successful Pakistani-American technology specialist was, in fact, responsible for the 2016 Democratic email leaks–while working as a “spy” for Islamabad.
Congress has paid $850,000 to five Pakistani-American technology specialists, who were targeted by right-wing conspiracy theorists after running afoul of a routine misconduct investigation.
According to The New York Times, the payment is among the largest sums the House of Representatives has ever paid to settle discrimination and harassment complaints.
Congressional aides also told the Times that the payment was made, in part, to end one of the strangest segments in recent House history. Mediators purportedly offered the big-money settlement to offer some semblance of justice to the former technology employees, who endured a prolonged period of harassment due to their Muslim faith and South Asian origins.
As the New York Times reports, the House of Representatives initiated a “relatively ordinary” inquiry into procurement irregularities by Imran Awan, along with three members of his family and a personal friend.
Awan was, at the time, heading a technology practice which provided various services to different members of Congress.
However, President Donald Trump’s scarce knowledge of the scandal provided abundant fodder for right-wing conspiracy theories. In 2018, Trump—then standing alongside Russian President Vladimir Putin at a press conference in Finland—suggested that a certain “Pakistani gentlemen” had been responsible for hacking the Democratic National Convention’s email servers during the past presidential campaign.
While most political observers—along with the United States’ own intelligence agencies—have ascribed blame for the email hacks to Russia, Trump instead floated the blame to Awan.
Trump supporters and conspiracy theorists quickly latched onto the president’s claims. They began targeting Awan and his family, alleging that the technology specialist was somehow trying to frame the commander-in-chief by making it appear as if the Trump campaign had colluded with Russia.
Meanwhile, other right-wing conspiracy theorists began circulating rumors that Awan and his associates were “Pakistani spies,” hell-bent on discrediting President Trump and American democracy.
And in 2019, the claims escalated when Daily Caller “journalist” Luke Rosiak published a book proclaiming Awan a Pakistani intelligence “mole.” Rosiak further alleged that Awan and his family members had hacked congressional servers, stolen legislators’ cell phones and laptops, and sent regular information briefings to government officials in Pakistan.
“It is a tragic and outrageous—the way right-wing media and Republicans all the way up to President Trump attempted to destroy the lives of an immigrant Muslim-American family based on scurrilous allegations,” Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL) told the Times.
“Their names were smeared on cable T.V.,” he added, “their children were harassed at school, and they genuinely feared for their lives.”
“This settlement,” Deutch said, “is an acknowledgment of the wrong done to this family.”
The New York Times notes that Awan and his associates have filed a lawsuit against Rosiak, the Daily Caller, and the Caller’s parent company, Salem Media Group. That case is currently pending in court.