WASHINGTON – It had all the elements of a juicy conspiracy that even President Trump couldn't resist: A Pakistaki American who did IT work for Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and other Democrats was stealing government secrets.
But federal prosecutors, who over 18 months interviewed 40 witnesses, said Tuesday that, "the government has uncovered no evidence that your client violated federal law with respect to the House computer system," including accessing classified information.
Imran Awan did plea guilty to making a false statement on a bank loan application, which was unrelated to his House work.
"We rely on our justice system to produce a fair result, after a considered, objective review," David Damron, a spokeswoman for Wasserman Schultz, told the Tampa Bay Times. "That role is even more important at a time when Donald Trump and his allies spread dangerous distortions with the intent of falsely smearing his political opponents."
For months, conservatives and conservative news outlets, chiefly the Daily Caller, had kept the conspiracy alive and last month Trump joined in, saying "Our Justice Department must not let Awan & Debbie Wasserman Schultz off the hook."
"This has cost me my reputation, my livelihood, my family," Awan told the Washington Post. "I can't believe this." He added, "The President used me to advance his political agenda."
The conspiracy was also spread by agriculture commissioner and Republican candidate for governor Adam Putnam, who tweeted a Daily Caller story on Monday.
"Gwen Graham and Democrats in Washington are doing everything they can to cover up a major bribery scandal," he wrote on Twitter.
Graham was one of several Florida Democrats in Congress who employed Awan. The Daily Caller story, which was quickly spread by conservative groups on the internet, said that Awan had tried to solicit a bribe for a contractor to work in Graham's office.
It cited the contractor as an anonymous source, and the allegation isn't mentioned in Awan's plea agreement.
Critics faulted federal prosecutors for not charging Awan with more.
"The decision to give the Pakistani who is the heart of the Congressional IT scandal, where hundreds of thousands of dollars where taxpayer's computer equipment went missing and the security of the entire Congressional email system was compromised, a slap on the wrist is a punch in the gut to the rule of law," said the conservative group Americans for Limited Government. "It is unconscionable that the Department of Justice has dropped the ball so thoroughly on this case."
Times/Herald staff writer Lawrence Mower contributed to this report.