August 16, 2017

NRCC goes after Wasserman Schultz on fired IT staffer

@PatriciaMazzei

National Republicans have one of their favorite foes -- Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston -- in their sights again.

The National Republican Congressional Committee debuted a web video Wednesday, backed by a five-figure ad buy, criticizing Wasserman Schultz for not firing former House IT staffer Imran Awan until after he was arrested at Dulles International Airport month and charged with bank fraud.

The spot starts with an illustration of a police-car chase.

"Scandals, lies and corruption," the narrator intones. "That's Debbie Wasserman Schultz."

Other congressional Democrats had cut Awan loose in February, accusing him of stealing computers and data systems. But Wasserman Schultz kept him on, saying recently she was concerned his due-process rights might have been infringed if he'd been let go over a technicality. She has since drawn a challenger to her solidly Democratic Broward County district.

Wasserman Schultz resigned as Democratic National Committee chairwoman a year ago after Wikileaks published thousands of emails showing the party appeared to favor Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders.

"As usual, instead of taking responsibility, she made an abundance of excuses and doubled down," NRCC Communications Director Matt Gorman said in a statement. "As long as Florida has Debbie Wasserman Schultz, they'll have to deal with the scandals that follow her around."

August 15, 2017

Wasserman Schultz: Florida lawmakers should hold special session, replace Confederate statue

@ByKristenMClark Confederate Statue Florida

As monuments celebrating the Confederacy face renewed scrutiny nationwide in the wake of a violent white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, last weekend, U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz wants Florida lawmakers to meet in special session this fall to replace the statue of a Confederate general that still represents the Sunshine State in the U.S. Capitol.

State lawmakers already voted 18 months ago to remove the statue of Edmund Kirby Smith from the National Statuary Hall after lengthy and contentious debates in Tallahassee. But Smith’s statue remains in the U.S. Capitol because state lawmakers failed during the 2017 session to agree on whom to replace him with when one committee chairman blocked a proposal.

“It’s time to stop playing games,” Wasserman Schultz, a Broward County Democrat, said in a statement Tuesday. “No family visiting our nation’s Capitol should have to explain to their child that the statue representing our state honors someone who fought for a philosophy built on hatred and oppression.”

“Governor [Rick] Scott and the Florida Legislature must take immediate action by calling a one-day special session,” she said.

Full story here.

Photo credit: AP

August 07, 2017

Well-known Republican attorney to challenge Debbie Wasserman Schultz in South Florida district

DWSinblue

@amysherman1

A well-known Republican lawyer will challenge U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz in 2018, the first time she has faced a credible Republican opponent in the overwhelmingly left-leaning district in South Florida.

Carlos J. Reyes announced to supporters in an email Sunday night that he will run against the Weston Democrat in his first bid for public office in the district. (Hat tip to browardbeat.com.)

“Being the son of Cuban immigrants and many years in community service have taught me the values of hard work and tenacity,” Reyes stated in a press release Monday, the day he filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission to run in the Weston to northern Miami-Dade district. “As a strong advocate for programs that focus on faith, family and freedom, I’ve heeded the encouragement of hundreds of friends, family and community leaders that the time is right to run for United States Congress.”

In November, Hillary Clinton won about 63 percent of the vote in the district making any challenge by a Republican a longshot. Reyes said part of his strategy should he win the Republican primary will be to appeal to independents who represent about 30 percent of voters in the district. Republicans comprise about 25 percent of the voters while Democrats comprise 45 percent.

Reyes' announcement comes at a time when Wasserman Schultz has been on the defense about waiting to fire an IT worker under federal investigation. While many other Democrats fired Imran Awan amid news reports in February that he was under investigation for procurement theft, Wasserman Schultz waited to fire Awan until he was arrested in July for bank fraud. The federal criminal complaint against Awan relates to an application for a home loan and makes no mention of any IT-related issues connected to his job working for multiple members of Congress. Awan has pleaded not guilty and awaits a preliminary hearing Aug. 21.

The Awan case will likely become attack fodder for Wasserman Schultz's opponents during the next year -- her primary opponent Tim Canova has been on Fox News attacking Wasserman Schultz for how she handled the case. 

Reyes told the Miami Herald that he isn't focused on the Awan case.

"She is going to have to deal with it however she feels is most appropriate," Reyes said. As for the allegations against Awan, "they may go somewhere -- they may not."

He said he is focused on other issues such as the economy, terrorism and health care. When asked if he believes Obamacare should be repealed, Reyes didn't provide a definitive answer.

"The Affordable Care Act is challenged financially -- it will crumble by it's own weight by the fact that so many insurance companies are dropping out," he said.

Democratic and Republican opponents face an uphill battle against Wasserman Schultz who has easily beat challengers for more than a decade.

In August, she beat Canova, a Nova Southeastern University law professor, by about 14 percentage points several weeks after she stepped down as Democratic National Committee chair amid the release of emails by Wikileaks showing the DNC favored Clinton over Bernie Sanders.

In November, Wasserman Schultz beat Republican Joe Kaufman 57 to 41 percent -- the closest margin any Republican achieved against her. But Kaufman, who is running again, is not seen as a major threat because he has lost to Wasserman Schultz twice in a row and is most famous for being lampooned on The Daily Show for trying to block a Muslim from joining the Broward Republican Executive Committee.

Also running in the GOP primary is Carla Spalding, a Navy veteran, former VA nurse and a mental health educator. In 2016 Spalding ran as an independent in Congressional District 18 and won about 3 percent of the vote in the race won by Republican Brian Mast. Spalding lives in Palm Beach Gardens but her campaign says she will move to a rental home in the district in September.

Among all of the past and present Republican challengers, Reyes is the most well-known opponent and likely has the strongest ability to fundraise.

He is well-known in business, law and Republican circles in Broward and has held many community leadership positions including an appointment by then Gov. Jeb Bush to the South Broward Hospital District. The Miami-born Davie resident owns a commercial and civil litigation law firm in Plantation.

Reyes' connections will give him a good place to start in terms of fundraising, said Chip LaMarca, the lone Republican on the Broward County Commission.

"He has at a minimum to shoot for at least $1 million, a million and a half to get his message out in that district," LaMarca said.

Aaron Nevins will manage Reyes' campaign. Nevins is a political operative who asked for information from Guccifer 2.0, the hacker that stole information from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. The Wall Street Journal reported that Nevins was the author behind HelloFLA.com, a political gossip blog where he published some of the documents. Nevins, who also worked for state Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, is also the son of Buddy Nevins, author of the browardbeat.com blog.

Reyes will hold an announcement rally Aug. 29 at the Signature Grand in Davie.

Wasserman Schultz declined to comment through her spokesman David Damron.

This blog was updated to include an interview with Reyes

August 03, 2017

U.S. Rep. DeSantis asks DOJ to investigate fired Wasserman Schultz IT worker

DeSantisTBT

@amysherman

U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis has asked the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the former information technology worker fired by U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

In a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Desantis asks for an investigation into the financial records of Imran Awan and his wife Hina Alvi to search for other potential crimes or suspicious activity.

"While we can never tolerate breaches of the public trust, the wire transfer to Pakistan is particularly alarming as Pakistan is home to numerous terrorist organizations," he wrote.

The criminal complaint charging Awan for bank fraud makes no mention of terrorism. 

The federal complaint states that Awan and Alvi raudulently obtained a $165,000 home loan from a credit union. Alvi submitted paperwork in January to wire $283,000 to Pakistan including the money from the loan. When a representative from the credit union called Alvi, a male answering the phone initially said the money was for "funeral arrangements" but later said it was to purchase property.

Awan was arrested at Dulles International Airport headed to Pakistan July 24. His wife flew to Pakistan in March.

DeSantis, a Republican from Ponte Vedra Beach, serves on the judiciary committee. His letter to Sessions, and calls for Wasserman Schultz to testify about the case, allows DeSantis to draw attention to himself while he considers a bid for Florida governor in 2018. DeSantis made terrorism a central issue of his short campaign for U.S. Senate in 2016 -- he dropped out when Rubio got back in.

News reports starting in February indicated that Awan was under investigation for equipment and data theft, but the federal charge for bank fraud makes no mention of such an investigation. Awan was a shared employee of many Democratic House members who fired him after the news reports about the investigation, but Wasserman Schultz waited until he was arrested to fire him.

“After details of the investigation were reviewed with us, my office was provided no evidence to indicate that laws had been broken, which over time, raised troubling concerns about due process, fair treatment and potential ethnic and religious profiling,” she previously said. “Upon learning of his arrest, he was terminated.”

Wasserman Schultz's spokesman David Damron declined to comment on the letter by DeSantis.

Awan has pleaded not guilty and awaits a preliminary hearing in Washington D.C. Aug. 21. His attorney filed a motion Wednesday asking the government to return $9,000 in cash seized from Awan by law enforcement when he was arrested. The motion states that Awan needs the money to pay for his defense.

 

July 27, 2017

White House wants "thorough investigation" into fired IT staffer who worked for Wasserman Schultz

Wasserman_Schultz_Staffer_Arrest_40608

@amysherman

The White House press secretary called for a "thorough investigation" into a fired information technology staffer who worked for U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

During the press briefing July 27th, Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked if President Donald Trump was aware of the case and if he was satisfied with the pace of the investigation.

"I haven't had a conversation with him specifically about that but I do think it is something we should fully look into and there should be a thorough investigation," she said.

On Thursday morning, Trump retweeted a story by Town Hall headlined "ABC, NBC, and CBS pretty much bury IT Scandal engulfing Debbie Wasserman Schultz's office."

Imran Awan worked for many Democratic House members since 2004. But while other members fired him in February when news surfaced that he was under investigation, Wasserman Schultz waited to fire him until Tuesday. Awan was arrested for bank fraud while at Dulles International Airport enroute to Pakistan.

While news reports have stated, based on unnamed sources, that Awan is under investigation for theft of data and equipment, the bank fraud charge is based on misrepresentations to a Congressional credit union about a home loan.

Awan has entered a plea of not guilty and awaits a preliminary hearing Aug 21. 

 

July 26, 2017

Wasserman Schultz kept paying tech expert suspected of stealing House computers

Wasserman_Schultz_Staffer_Arrest_40608

@alextdaugherty @amysherman1

When a computer expert who worked for congressional Democrats was accused of stealing computers and data systems in February, members of Congress cut him loose within days, leaving Imran Awan with no supporters five months later.

Except for Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

The Weston Democrat has not explained why she continued to employ Awan until Tuesday, when she fired him — after he was arrested on bank-fraud charges at Dulles International Airport in Virginia attempting to board a flight to Pakistan.

Nor has she elaborated on what work Awan did for her after he lost access to the House computer network.

She declined to answer questions about Awan in Washington on Wednesday, and her spokesman, David Damron, accompanied her to the House floor, instructing a reporter that Wasserman Schultz would not take questions about her former employee.

Wednesday evening, Wasserman Schultz released a statement:

“After details of the investigation were reviewed with us, my office was provided no evidence to indicate that laws had been broken, which over time, raised troubling concerns about due process, fair treatment and potential ethnic and religious profiling,” she said. “Upon learning of his arrest, he was terminated.”

Damron told the Miami Herald that Awan was still working for Wasserman Schultz in an advisory role until Monday, and was fired Tuesday. Wasserman Schultz was one of more than two dozen Democrats in Congress who employed Awan, 37, and four other information-technology staffers accused in February of stealing computer systems.

But months after Awan was fired by everyone else, Wasserman Schultz grilled Capitol Police Chief Matthew Verderosa in May over why computer equipment was confiscated from her office as part of the investigation into Awan even though she was not under investigation.

“Under my understanding the Capitol police are not able to confiscate member’s equipment when the member is not under investigation,” Wasserman Schultz said. “It is their equipment and it is supposed to be returned.”

Verderosa told Wasserman Schultz that he couldn’t return the equipment without the permission of the investigation.

“Until that’s accomplished I can’t return the equipment,” Verderosa said.

Wasserman Schultz was not pleased.

“I think you are violating rules when you conduct your business that way and you should expect that there will be consequences,” she said.

The Capitol Police declined to comment on the investigation.

Read more here.

July 25, 2017

Debbie Wasserman Schultz to hold tele town hall on health care

DWSAPmug

@amysherman1

U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, will hold a tele town hall about health care Tuesday night.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Senate is expected to vote on a motion to proceed with debate about repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act.

Wasserman Schultz has been a champion of President Barack Obama's signature legislation passed in 2010 although she has called for some fixes.

Among the problems, she told WPLG Channel 10, is that in numerous places around the country there is "very little choice in terms of competition among companies that provide policies."

Wasserman Schultz's spokesman Michael Liquerman said that a tele town hall allows her to reach a greater audience than an in-person event because thousands can participate.

But it also allows Wasserman Schultz to avoid in-person confrontation by critics, including supporters of her primary opponent Tim Canova, a Nova Southeastern University law professor who has advocated for single payer health care.

Although Democratic support for single payer health care is rising, it doesn't appear to be going anywhere in Congress. There is a great deal of disagreement among experts regarding how much single payer health care would cost.

A single payer bill, H.R. 676 Expanded and Improved Medicare for All Act, sponsored by U.S. Rep. John Conyers, D-Michigan, was introduced in February but has received no votes.

Wasserman Schultz is not one of the 115 cosponsors of the single payer bill. She has spoken in favor of a public option which would provide competition for insurers. 

Wasserman Schultz beat Canova by about 14 percentage points in August in the district which stretches from Weston to northern Miami-Dade County. She easily beat her Republican challenger, Joe Kaufman, in the left-leaning district.

The tele town hall is scheduled to begin at 7:30 p.m. although that could change depending upon the House vote schedule. Constituents will receive a robocall with the phone number. Wasserman Schultz is expected to take questions from constituents and the media.

This post has been updated to include additional information from Wasserman Schultz's office

 

July 21, 2017

At key moment, Cuban-American lawmakers adopt Venezuela cause as their own

Venezuela Political Crisis

@patriciamazzei @alextdaugherty 

For months, Cuban-American lawmakers have deployed familiar rhetoric to warn Washington colleagues of a democracy under threat in Latin America, where people are deprived of food and the ballot box, and where economic collapse could empower Russia uncomfortably close to home.

“This is a dysfunctional narco-state that is in a death spiral in terms of its ability to function,” said Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida.

“We are talking about a nearly failed state in our own hemisphere,” said Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey.

“We will have a swift and firm response from our own administration,” said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Miami.

But the tough talk isn’t about Cuba. It’s about Venezuela.

The fight for a free Cuba — a fight carried in their bones, transcending all politics — has fueled Cuban-American lawmakers for decades in their campaign against Fidel and Raúl Castro. But President Donald Trump has already taken a tougher line toward Cuba, as the legislators wanted. So, the unfolding Venezuela crisis has become Cuban Americans’ new crusade.

“Just like it has been too long for the Cuban people, most people are coming to the understanding that this is part of the same movement, the same cancer that has been sickening the Cuban people and the Venezuelan people for decades now,” Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo said in a Capitol Hill speech to Venezuelan activists and lawmakers Wednesday.

Cuban-American Republicans and Democrats agree President Nicolás Maduro must be stopped. Their united front could amplify their clout: As with Cuba, one of their own — Rubio — has proven to be the White House’s go-to legislator on Latin America.

Rubio, a Republican who’s spent years in Congress criticizing Maduro, says he’s been in regular touch with Trump and especially Vice President Mike Pence about how to sanction Venezuela if Maduro moves forward with a planned July 30 election. That vote would create a constituent assembly empowered to rewrite the nation’s constitution, effectively replacing a democratically elected legislature with Maduro loyalists.

“The United States will not stand by as Venezuela crumbles,” Trump said in a statement Monday, released as Rubio made similar remarks on Twitter. “If the Maduro regime imposes its Constituent Assembly on July 30, the United States will take strong and swift economic actions.”

Rubio, Ros-Lehtinen, Curbelo and fellow Miami Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart back banning Venezuelan oil imports, a drastic measure once considered unthinkable against the No. 3 oil supplier to the U.S. But also in favor is a local Democrat, Weston Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who represents thousands of Venezuelans.

The message: On Cuba, Rubio and company faced significant opposition, both on Capitol Hill and in Trump’s administration. On Venezuela, they don’t.

“There’s not a single senator that I’ve seen, and no House member that I’ve heard from, who still supports this regime,” Rubio told the Congressional Hispanic Leadership Institute in bilingual remarks Wednesday. “Once there were people who sometimes backed [former Venezuelan President Hugo] Chávez, or said things about Chávez in the past. But that doesn’t exist anymore. No one here supports Maduro.”

Even Rep. Gregory Meeks, a New York Democrat who worked with the late Chávez, frequently traveled to Venezuela during Chávez’s presidency and is the only sitting member of Congress who attended Chávez’s funeral, supports sanctions.

“We are compelled to take a stand on what’s right,” Meeks said. “Sanctions that are being considered are the right things to do.”

Behind the bipartisan push is a deeply held belief that Maduro is just another Fidel — and a sense that if Cuban Americans and their allies don’t defend Venezuela in Washington, no one will.

“We need to let the Venezuelan people know that they are not alone in this fight, that we stand together with them, that we will not rest until Venezuela is free from oppression and is once again a nation of democracy and the rule of law,” Ros-Lehtinen said in an impassioned speech Wednesday.

The position is certainly heart-felt, but politics aren’t entirely out of the picture: Venezuelans fleeing Chávez and now Maduro could emerge as a significant voting bloc in Florida, the nation’s largest swing state.

Read more here.

 

July 17, 2017

Debbie Wasserman Schultz spends six figures after Tim Canova announces rematch

Pjimage (2)

@alextdaugherty 

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, spent over $200,000 in the latest quarter of fundraising after Hollywood law professor Tim Canova announced a rematch with the former Democratic National Committee chairwoman in mid-June. 

Wasserman Schultz raised $217,526 in the second quarter of 2017 and spent $238,332, according to Federal Elections Commission reports. The longtime incumbent has $215,220 on hand. The totals include all fundraising and spending from April 1 to June 30, so the bulk of Wasserman Schultz's financial activity occurred before Canova announced his bid. 

Canova, who began the period with just $3,343 on hand, raised $38,117 and spent $32,819 for $19,641 cash on hand. Canova also loaned himself $10,000. The majority of Canova's contributions, $33,822, were small-dollar donations under $200. 

Wasserman Schultz beat Canova in the Democratic primary by 14 percentage points in 2016. The Broward-based district that includes portions of northeastern Miami-Dade is heavily Democratic. 

July 13, 2017

Debbie Wasserman Schultz introduces amendments that would revoke Jared Kushner's security clearance

Kushner-7bde83e8-5226-11e7-b064-828ba60fbb98

@alextdaugherty 

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz introduced two amendments on Thursday that would revoke Jared Kushner's security clearance if they pass Congress. 

Both amendments failed on a party-line vote after a debate in the House committee that determines federal spending. 

The first amendment prohibits federal funding for presidential security clearances for someone who is under a criminal investigation by a Federal law enforcement agency for aiding a foreign government. The second amendment bars funding for security credentials for anyone who "deliberately fails" to disclose a meeting with a foreign national if the disclosure is required as part of the individual's security clearance credentialing process. 

In June 2016, Kushner, met with a Russian attorney who promised dirt on Hillary Clinton, according to emails between Donald Trump Jr. and a music publicist. Kushner's lawyers failed to disclose the meeting on his security clearance form. Knowingly omitting the meetings is a crime but Kushner's lawyers say omitting the meeting was a non-intentional mistake. 

"This is an intentionally narrowly drawed amendment," Wasserman Schultz said. 

Donald Trump's digital operation during the campaign, headed by Kushner, is also under investigation by Congress and the Justice Department over whether the campaign helped to guide Russian interference in the 2016 election, according to a report by McClatchy DC. Kushner is a senior Trump adviser who has access to classified information. 

Wasserman Schultz's amendments were inserted into the annual Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations bill during a markup on Thursday.

The amendments did not garner any Republican support.