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Judicial Watch has been trying to get Capitol Police records under the Freedom of Information Act related to the investigation in the case of the Democratic IT aide Imran Awan cybersecurity scandal for some time.
The Department of Justice was previously required to turn over the records by November 5, but claimed “technical difficulties.”
There was a hearing on Friday as to why they hadn’t turned over the requested records.
The surprise came in the response, as the DOJ said they could not turn over the records because there was a “secret case” pending under seal, according to the Daily Caller.
According to the DOJ’s claims in the court status report:
Pursuant to an Order issued by the Honorable Tanya S. Chutkan, who is presiding over a related sealed criminal matter the Government is prohibited from disclosing certain information pursuant to formal and informal information request in this matter. The Government advised Judge Chutkan of the instant FOIA matter and sought clarification from Judge Chutkan concerning the Government’s permissible response in light of her Order in the sealed matter. Defendant received the clarification December 5, 2019, the date of this filing, that permitted Defendant to say the following: The Government is prohibited from disclosing any information pursuant to an Order issued by the Honorable Tanya S. Chutkan. [….]
The “difficulties” in providing responsive material was due to the unexpected and unique set of facts described above that was out of the control of the Defendant. Defendant’s only motivation was to maintain the integrity of the sealed matter as much as possible, until the issuing Court provided guidance.
Previous statements from the DOJ had indicated that they closed the case last year with no real consequences and no real information revealed about how much our cybersecurity had been compromised by the Democratic IT aide who had worked for multiple Democrats including the former chair of the DNC and Florida Congresswoman, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, and had so much access to the network.
Prosecutors issued what Chutkan acknowledged at the time was an unusual statement explicitly saying a lengthy investigation had found no crimes related to his work as a computer administrator for House Democrats. The plea deal even gave Awan partial immunity.
Judicial Watch filed a FOIA request in an attempt to square that determination with a large body of evidence of suspicious behavior, which included alleged threats against witnesses, connections to foreign officials, false House ethics disclosures, severe cybersecurity violations documented by the House inspector general, disappearing computer equipment, and bullying of the Capitol Police by Democratic Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz for examining evidence in the case.
The DOJ lawyer trying to answer on their behalf before the FOIA judge said that he had just learned of the sealing order.
He told U.S. District Court Judge Amit P. Mehta, who is presiding over the FOIA lawsuit, that “On Nov. 4, the day before we were supposed to make a production, the agency was informed by one of its custodians that there may have been a seal that would impact production … It was only in learning of the sealing order that I learned that I couldn’t discuss the sealing order … We have this cache of documents that we were going to produce, but now we can’t.”
Mehta said that “typically when criminal cases have concluded, the materials become public and I don’t know whether there’s any relationship between the judge’s order and that case … The seal Judge Chutkan has ordered, is that itself sealed?”
“That’s under seal as well,” Benton Peterson replied.
“Have you seen a copy of that order?” the judge asked.
“I have not,” he said, acknowledging he was also “fairly unfamiliar with the criminal matter” and that “I fairly rarely do FOIA.”
Judge Mehta said this was the first time he’d heard of this and he was interested in getting a copy of the order, since criminal case records are usually released if the case is finished.
So is it simply a dodge to avoid turning over the records? That would be extremely problematic if it were since they’ve made representations to two different judges and the court is involved.
Or is there really a pending matter that might have more action in this case? If so, that would be great news.
The Daily Caller’s Luke Rosiak, who has been doing bang-up work on the case for years, suggested it could be related to an effort to expunge the record on behalf of Hina Alvi, Awan’s wife, which the DOJ has opposed. Rosiak notes the prior case information related to Alvi has now apparently been removed. However the motion to seal her records only pertained to her records and not to those of her husband, and all her husband’s records are still in the system. So it should not pertain to records related to her husband.
The DOJ is asking the FOIA court if they can have until January 30 in order to update as to the status. So hopefully we will either have the records or more information about the “secret case” by then.
Here’s a throwback to two years ago when Awan appeared in court in the matter: