Former House IT staffer at center of debunked conspiracy theory sues The Daily Caller
Posted January 29, 2020 9:33 a.m. EST
CNN — The former House information technology staffer whose proximity to Democratic Party leadership made him a linchpin of conspiracy theories pushed by Republicans up to the President is suing a conservative news outlet and its reporter for defamation.
Imran Awan, along with his wife, two brothers and a friend who all worked for House Democrats in recent years, filed the lawsuit in DC Superior Court against The Daily Caller and Luke Rosiak, a reporter who later wrote a book about Awan.
They allege that the group turned their lives upside down with a false story, leading to "extreme financial hardship" and "emotional distress."
"This lawsuit seeks accountability for a relentless, xenophobic campaign of defamatory attacks that have destroyed the reputations and ruined the livelihoods of a group of Pakistani-American Muslims who were employed as information-technology workers in the U.S. House of Representatives," the plaintiffs wrote.
In an email, Rosiak referred CNN to a managing editor at The Daily Caller News Foundation for comment. The editor, Ethan Barton, said the outlet had not yet been served with the lawsuit and therefore could not respond yet.
Awan, a former staffer for Democratic House members, including Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who served as the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee through much of the run-up to the 2016 election, was arrested on bank fraud charges in July 2017.
Awan pleaded guilty in 2018 to lying on a bank loan application and was sentenced to time served and supervised release.
The charges were born from an investigation of Awan and a group of other House technology employees that included family members of Awan's family by the US Capitol Police and the FBI for the alleged theft of congressional computer equipment.
While he was never charged with a crime connected to his government work, conservative media outlets speculated about his possible connections to the hack of the DNC in the 2016 election in a conspiracy theory that was promoted by President Donald Trump on Twitter.
In a rare move, prosecutors debunked the conspiracy theories surrounding him, writing in a plea agreement that they had "found no evidence [Awan] 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" after a "thorough investigation" that included interviewing 40 witnesses and taking custody of the House Democratic Caucus server.
According to the suit, Rosiak wrote some of the first stories about the Awan conspiracy, before publishing a book on the affair. The publisher of the book, Regnery Publishing, is also among the defendants being sued.
Regnery Publishing has not responded to CNN's request for comment.
"This case shows that fact-free conspiracies don't just damage our politics—they can ruin real people's lives," said Deepak Gupta, who represents Awan in the suit.
"When our media discourse veers away from facts and towards xenophobic conspiracies, real people are going to get caught in the crosshairs. That's what happened here," Gupta said.