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Congressional aide probe includes workers in six Florida Democrats’ offices

Arrested Democratic congressional staffer Imran Awan or his relatives — all reportedly under federal criminal investigation — also worked for five other Democratic Florida members of Congress besides U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who is on the hot seat.

U.S. Reps. Stephanie Murphy of Winter Park, Darren Soto of Orlando, Frederica Wilson of Miami Gardens, and Lois Frankel of West Palm Beach, and former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham of Tallahassee, now a gubernatorial candidate, also employed Awan or one of his family members, wife Hina Alvi, and brothers Jamal Awan and Abid Awan, as part-time, shared, information technology employees in their offices.

However, unlike Wasserman Schultz, of Weston, who kept Imran Awan on her payroll through months of publicly-reported federal investigations into potential theft and misuse of congressional equipment and data, the other five members of Florida’s delegation all cut their ties with the Awan family member employees early.

The FBI and U.S. Capitol Police arrested Imran Awan at Washington’s Dulles International Airport on July 24, as he reportedly was trying to leave the country. He was charged with bank fraud, and other charges may be pending. Last week he and Alvi were indicted on bank fraud and other charges.

Neither of Imran Awan’s brothers have been arrested or accused of anything, though media reports dating to early February indicated that the FBI was investigating all four members of the Awan family.

They all worked for numerous Democratic members of the U.S. House, some for more than a decade, as IT specialists. House members chose independently to hire or fire them, and they were paid from office staff payroll budgets.

In early February, U.S. House of Representatives leaders informed members of Congress that the Awans were under investigation. News of that broke in Washington a couple of days later. Murphy, Soto, Frankel, and Wilson all terminated the Awans in their offices on Feb. 2 or Feb. 3, according to House of Representatives office budget disbursement documents. Graham already had terminated Jamal Awan on Jan. 2.

Still, some published reports, notably in The Daily Caller, which has broken much of the Awan story, have suggested the Awans had legal and financial troubles long before February, dating to 2009, which some have argued should have sent up red flags to Democratic members employing them.

Wasserman Schultz, who fired Imran Awan on July 25, has said she had serious questions about how and why the investigation was being pursued, and did not want to dismiss him unless she saw evidence of wrongdoing.

Other Democratic members took a different approach. Response from Soto’s spokesman was typical:

“Abid Awan served as an IT system administrator in Congressman Darren Soto’s office for one month. He was immediately fired upon learning he was under investigation, lost access to the House system and could no longer perform his job duties,” Oriana Pina said in a statement to FloridaPolitics.com. “Abid was hired based on the recommendation of several other House offices for whom he worked.”

Records show Soto paid the least amount to Abid Awan, $103 this year.

“Mr. Abid Awan was hired by a number of other offices and at the suggestion of other offices,” Murphy’s spokesman Javier Hernandez said. “He was terminated as soon as we were informed of the allegations.”

Murphy had paid Abid Awan $1,033 this year.

“We were one of 20-plus member offices that were using the services of Abid Awan to provide technical support for our computing technology,” Frankel’s spokeswoman Rachel Huxley-Cohen said in a statement. “Our contract with him has been terminated.”

Frankel paid Abid Awan $1,833 in 2017.

“Imran Awan, our former IT administrator, was a shared employee who began working for the congresswoman at the start of her first term. He was terminated as soon as we learned about the allegations of wrongdoing,” Wilson’s spokeswoman Joyce Jones said in a statement. “His official termination date was February 2, 2017. We cannot discuss the details of an ongoing investigation.”

Wilson paid Imran Awan $1,778 this year.

Graham’s spokesman, Matt Harringer, said Jamal Awan’s services were used only to close out Graham’s congressional computer accounts in the first two days of January as she prepared to leave Congress at the end of her tenure. The Awan investigation was not revealed until about a month later.

Graham paid Jamal Awan $111 this year.

Wasserman Schultz has remained defensive of Imran Awan. House records only are available through March 31. Through then, Wasserman Schultz had paid Imran Awan $1,605 this year. She also had employed Nina Alvi, but only through March 7, according to the first quarter House disbursement records. Alvi was paid $3,394.

Wasserman Schultz first employed Imran Awan in her office in 2005. Last week she issued a lengthy statement defending her decision to keep him on until the arrest:

“As a mother, a Jew, and a member of Congress, if there is one thing I know for sure, it’s this: my commitment to doing what’s right and just — even if it isn’t what’s easy and simple — is unyielding.

“Whether that meant standing in opposition to the Terri Schiavo bill, combating prejudice by encouraging my colleagues to bring Muslim-American constituents to the State of the Union, or questioning whether an employee has been afforded due process before terminating him, I have never been afraid to stand alone when justice demands it.

“Undoubtedly, the easier path would have been to terminate Mr. Awan, despite the fact that I had not received any evidence of his alleged wrongdoing; but that is not the woman my constituents elected, and that is not the mother my children know me to be.

“Over time, the investigation raised troubling concerns for me about fair treatment, due process, and potential ethnic and religious profiling. As the representative of Florida’s 23rd Congressional District, one of the most vibrant and diverse districts in the nation, I may not always be the darling of the conservative media, but I will always protect the democratic and pluralistic values that we South Floridians hold so dear, and I will always live up to the oath I took when my constituents first sent me to Washington: to support and defend the Constitution.

“At the end of the day, there are times in our lives when we must do what may be hard but right, even when there is a cost. This was one of those times for me, and I would make the same decision again.”

Democratic candidates vow to back anti-discrimination law

Three Democratic candidates for governor pledged Saturday to support legislation that would prohibit discrimination in jobs and housing based on sexual orientation.

Despite support from the business community, the legislation, known as the “Competitive Workforce Act,” has stalled in the Legislature in recent years. Also, a call for Gov. Rick Scott to use his executive power to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation in state agencies has gone unheeded.

“If you elect me governor, you won’t have to wait any longer,” Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum told the LGBTA Democratic Caucus, which represents the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

“Florida is too big, too proud, too diverse a state for our politics to reflect an error of yesteryear, yesterdecade, yestercentury,” Gillum said during a caucus conference in Tallahassee.

Candidate Chris King, a Winter Park businessman, said passing the anti-discrimination law is both morally and economically right for the state.

“I want to make sure everyone is comfortable here, everyone is safe here, everyone is protected here,” King said.

Former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham of Tallahassee said she would work to “stop discrimination in its tracks.”

“We’re going to protect every Floridian, no matter what color their skin is, where they come from, or who they love,” Graham said in a prepared text of her speech Saturday night to the caucus.

All three candidates said, if elected in November 2018, they would sign an executive order banning discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in state agencies.

Two candidates talked about how ending discrimination was personal for them.

King talked about the discrimination faced by his older brother, David, growing up as a gay man in the South. He said his brother, who moved to California, took his own life at age 30 after battling depression and mental illness.

King said his brother’s experience has compelled him to make anti-discrimination initiatives a centerpiece of his campaign and underscored the importance of speaking “with moral clarity on these issues.”

“I promise you I will,” King told the caucus. “I will give it my best shot.”

Gillum said his older brother, Terrance, faced similar discrimination as a young gay man in Gainesville, moving to California as soon as he could “so that he could live and be himself.”

Gillum said throughout his 15-year public career he has spoken out for LGBT issues.

“Not only because it’s the right thing to do but it was my little way of showing my big brother that I saw him,” he said.

Graham recounted her support for marriage equality during her successful 2014 campaign for Congress in a North Florida district that covered some of the most conservative regions in the state. She said it was one of the first questions a reporter asked her in a Panama City stop.

“I proudly told him if one of my sons or daughter were gay, if one of your children were gay, I would want them to be happy, and that means supporting them no matter who they want to marry,” Graham said.

King, who is an affordable-housing developer, said he will also stress an economic message in his campaign.

“I don’t believe a Democratic candidate is going to win in 2018 if we don’t win the economic debate, if we don’t convince folks that this party has a vision and has a plan to lift up people and make this a more fair, homegrown economy,” King said.

He said he would work to improve affordable housing, expand health-care coverage and support public schools.

Gillum said Democrats need a “bold” message on issues like discrimination, climate change and health care and need to advocate it statewide.

“We have to give voters a reason to choose us. It’s not going to be by capitulating. It’s not going to be by Republican-lite,” Gillum said. “We have to offer a different, bolder vision.”

However, Gillum acknowledged that his campaign has been hindered by an ongoing FBI investigation into Tallahassee city government, although he said he has been assured he is not a target of the investigation and is fully cooperating with federal investigators.

“I’m 1,000 percent confident that when the facts are all the way known I will be removed from under this cloud,” Gillum said.

Graham said she has proven her political viability by winning election to a North Florida congressional seat, while not wavering on traditional Democratic issues. Graham did not run for a second term in Washington after the district was redrawn and became a Republican stronghold.

“I stood up for my values on marriage equality, for a woman’s right to choose, for protecting the environment — and you know what, not everyone agreed with me, but they knew I said what I believed and believed what I said,” Graham said.

She also said she followed through on her campaign promises once in office. “Folks aren’t used to public servants actually doing what they say,” she said.

Terry Fleming, president of the LGBTA Democratic Caucus, said the group has not endorsed a candidate but will consider it after the candidates formally qualify next year.

Other potential Democratic candidates include Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine and Orlando trial lawyer John Morgan.

Frederica Wilson endorses Andrew Gillum for governor

Democratic U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson has endorsed Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum to be the next governor of Florida.

Wilson, from Miami Gardens, joins U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings as Democratic members of Congress who have endorsed Gillum over two Democratic rivals, former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham of Tallahassee and developer Chris King of Winter Park.

“I am very excited to endorse Mayor Andrew Gillum for Governor of Florida. Mayor Gillum is one of Florida’s brightest young political minds and most energetic public servant,” Wilson said in a written statement issued by Gillum’s campaign. “He has the courage to confront Florida’s biggest challenges: protecting access to affordable healthcare, building a more inclusive economy, revitalizing public education, and addressing climate change and rising sea level crisis. Florida needs a leader like Mayor Gillum whom we can trust to rebuild our state into one that works for everyone,” said Congresswoman Frederica Wilson.

“I’m humbled and honored to receive Congresswoman Wilson’s endorsement,” Gillum stated. “She has long been a “Voice for the Voiceless” and stands out as one of Florida’s most respected leaders. She’s a role model and I look forward to working with her to rebuild the Sunshine State into one that works better for all Floridians.”

Gwen Graham turns free clinic ‘workday’ into push for a budget that cares

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham described a private meeting a patient asked to have with her while she was performing one of her “workday” events at an Orlando free clinic Wednesday night, and said it reminded her that state budget priorities need to be reworked to be more caring.

The patient had been struggling to get medications he needed. In his private meeting Wednesday night with the Democratic former congresswoman who wants to be Florida’s next governor, he began to cry. She responded with tears of her own, she said.

He got what he needed at the Shepherd’s Hope clinic in Longwood, one of five Shepherd’s Hopes in the Orlando area that serves people who do not qualify for Medicaid but cannot afford medical insurance. The clinics serve thousands of patients, but still, on some days, must turn people away.

“These are good people who are facing real challenges all the time. But for places like Shepherd’s Hope, which is really their last hope, what would they do?” Graham said.

“We need to have people who want to make a difference in people’s lives, who really care,” she concluded. “We need to look at our state budget in ways that get our priorities back in place, caring for people… for the right reasons.”

Graham faces Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and Winter Park affordable housing developer Chris King in pursuing the Democratic nomination to run for governor. She has spent much of her early campaign months pursuing the activity coined by her father, former governor and former U.S. Sen. Bob Graham, who spent “workdays” working other people’s jobs.

While the younger Graham has worked an occasional hard-labor workday such as installing solar panels on roofs, her focus so far has been on more social services, from education to health care. It’s a distinction working into her campaign them, which she described as offering someone the voters will get to trust to care about them.

It’s a theme both Gillum and King would insist they share, though Gillum is presenting himself more as the Democrat who has the courage to push Democratic values, and King as the Democrat who has succeeded in business while pushing Democratic values.

The leading Republican thus far is Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, who’s defining himself with strong conservative values.

On Wednesday night she spent four hours working at Shepherd’s Hope with the organization’s president, Marni Stahlman, and with Dr. Jamaal McLeod, normally an emergency room physician in Volusia County, and the rest of the all-volunteer staff.

Graham used the moment, as she did with her workday at a Jacksonville clinic earlier this month, to condemn Republican Gov. Rick Scott and the Republican-led Florida Legislature for refusing to accept the federal Medicaid expansion deal offered in the Affordable Care Act, a deal that would have provided health care to at least 800,000 uninsured Floridians, and billions of dollars to Florida, but also a longterm financial commitment to Florida.

She also pushed Wednesday night for other health care reforms, such as modernizing the state’s laws so that clinics such as Shepherd’s Hope, and ordinary doctors’ offices, could turn to telemedicine and other advances to offer specialist care.

 

Chris King, Andrew Gillum slip against Gwen Graham in Democratic governor’s money race

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris King‘s campaign announced he raised $202,000 in June, while rival Andrew Gillum‘s campaign reported $122,000, as both slipped behind Gwen Graham in the early stages of the money chase for the 2018 governor’s race.

The Chris King for Florida campaign announced the Winter Park developer had attracted a combined total of $202,249 in June for his official campaign committee and his unofficial Rise and Lead Florida Political Committee.

That left him with $2.2 million total in contributions thus far, and about $1.6 million in the bank, his campaign stated.

Meanwhile Tallahassee Mayor Gillum’s campaign reported he drew $97,000 for his official campaign fund and $25,000 for his Florida Forward Political Campaign.

Combined the two Gillum accounts have raised about $1.3 million, the campaign stated.

On Monday Graham’s campaign announced she had raised $360,00 in June giving her a total of $2.6 million in contributions.

Gillum suffered his second consecutive month of low fundraising since Graham entered the race, and in the past week his campaign parted company with Campaign Manager Phillip Thompson and Finance Director Brice Barnes.

Still, both King’s and Gillum’s campaigns touted their fundraising efforts Tuesday.

“For a first time candidate, we’re pleased we’re able to keep pace with politicians who have 20 years of relationships with political donors,” King Campaign Manager, Zach Learner said in a news release issued by the campaign.

Gillum’s campaign focused on the high number of individual contributors it has, most of them small donors.

“The mayor entered this race because he fundamentally believes regular people must take this state back from the special interests and the powerful who have made this state their personal playground. We’re thrilled to have the support of literally thousands of people giving what they can to this people-powered campaign for Governor of Florida,” Geoff Burgan, Gillum for Governor’s communications director, stated in a news release.

Endorsements: Randolph Bracy for Andrew Gillum, Clovis Watson for Gwen Graham

Democratic state Sen. Randolph Bracy has thrown his support behind Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum in the 2018 governor’s race.

Bracy’s Oakland-based district covers much of west Orange County.

“Orlando and Central Floridians can trust that Mayor Gillum will fight fiercely for the issues that matter most to us, from rebuilding our economy, fighting for healthcare as a right, standing up for public school students and teachers, and confronting our climate change crisis,” Bracy stated in a news release issued by Gillum’s campaign.

“He’s a true champion for all of us, and I’m excited to campaign with him this fall all the way through next year!”

“I am honored to have Sen. Randolph Bracy’s endorsement in our campaign for Governor,” Gillum replied in the press release. “As a dedicated public servant and Chairman of the Criminal Justice Committee he has been a tireless leader in the fight to protect our working-class families and Florida’s most vulnerable. I am excited to get out on the trail with him in Orlando!”

In other endorsements, state Rep. Clovis Watson Jr. threw his support behind Democrat Gwen Graham for governor.

The Alachua County Democratic House member also was the city of Alachua’s city manager and deputy chief of police.

“Gwen Graham knows what’s at stake in this election,” he said. “I’m inspired by her heart, passion, and dedication to defending our shared principles. Gwen is working to build a Florida that educates the young, cares for the sick, and embraces the persecuted.”

So far, Gillum and Graham are competing against affordable housing developer Chris King of Winter Park for the Democratic nomination.

Jeremy Ring joins Dems’ calls that Rick Scott not release voter rolls to Donald Trump

Democratic state financial officer candidate Jeremy Ring has joined the call from most other Florida Democrats in urging the administration of Gov. Rick Scott to refuse the request from the administration of President Donald Trump to release state voter rolls to a federal commission.

Ring contended that the governor’s “number one job is to protect Floridians” and that the privacy of millions of Floridians is at risk.

“As a candidate for chief financial officer, as a Floridian, and — above all — as an American, I am strongly opposed to the Administration’s request, and frankly downright offended at Gov. Scott’s refusal to immediately reject and condemn it,” Ring stated in a news release.

In the week since the Trump administration made its request for detailed information on all voters from all 50 states and the District of Columbia to be shared with his Presidential Advisory Committee on Election Integrity, the backlash has come from Republicans and Democrats alike nationwide. In Florida, however, the objections have come chiefly from Democrats, including all three gubernatorial candidates, the Florida Democratic Party, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and top Democrats in the Florida Legislature urging Scott and Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner to reject the request. Scott and Detzner have yet to respond.

Ring is a former state senator from Broward County. As such, he helped establish the Florida Agency for State Technology, which handles sensitive data on Florida residents.

“The governor’s number one job is to protect Floridians and yet he sits idly by while the Trump Administration seeks to breach the privacy of millions of Floridians and potentially shatter one of the foundations of our democracy — the privacy of the vote,” Ring stated. “Where is Rick Scott to protect Floridians? Instead of leading, Gov. Scott has sat back while 41 other states — led by both Republicans and Democrats — have outright rejected the Administration’s request. I join these states in their opposition to the Administration’s request.”

Andrew Gillum doubles down on opposition to voter rolls request, files records request with state

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum is keeping the heat on Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner to not cooperate with the federal request for voter rolls, filing a records request Wednesday for any evidence of the voter fraud President Donald Trump has alleged.

Last week Detzner and fellow Democratic gubernatorial candidates Chris King of Orlando and Gwen Graham of Tallahassee all urged Detzner, Gov. Rick Scott and other state officials to not comply with the request from the president’s voter fraud commission, but have not received any response.

“Florida has still not responded to this invasive demand,” Gillum stated in an announcement released by his campaign. “That’s why I sent a Freedom of Information Act request demanding that the Florida Secretary of State turn over any evidence of voter fraud in the 2016 election.”

Last week Gillum charged that the federal request violated the privacy and security of Floridians, and that it was founded on baseless claims of widespread voter fraud. He repeated that charge Wednesday, and sought to put the onus on Detzner.

“If he fails to produce any evidence – which I suspect he will – then he should break his public silence and formally deny the Trump Commission’s request for Floridians’ personal data.

“I’ve also asked for any communications his office has had with the commission, since the secretary’s office has refused to publicly respond to their demand. We should call the commission what it is: a sham based on unsubstantiated claims that our elections are rife with widespread voter fraud. There is simply no evidence to support these claims, and we must put this insidious and false rumor to rest once and for all,” Gillum stated.

He concluded by calling the claim of widespread voter fraud a “dangerous and unfounded lie,” saying, “Floridians deserve truth and confidence in the electoral process, so my demand is simple – if there’s widespread voter fraud, then prove it by releasing evidence of it.”

Anna Eskamani hits trail with quick start in HD 47 race

Democrat Anna Eskamani kicked off her 2018 campaign for House District 47 with a Wednesday rally at Orlando City Hall, several major endorsements, thousands of social media hits and $6,000 in donations, all gathered, she said, in the less than two days since she filed to run on Monday.

Eskamani, the first in from any party since Republican incumbent state Rep. Mike Miller announced last week he is running for Congress instead of re-election in 2018, brings with her a Central Florida grassroots network she helped build and run the past several years as a community organizer and progressive activist and Planned Parenthood lobbyist. She also brought with her former Orange County Comptroller Martha Haynie, a Republican; state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith; and several other early endorsements.

“I stand here today as an Orlando native and as a daughter of immigrants,” she said. “Someone who has worked relentlessly throughout her life to protect all Floridians through effective advocacy, bold leadership and and strategic management. I understand our region’s growth, changes, challenges, and potentials.”

Since late Monday afternoon, she said, her campaign has drawn 1,500 “likes” since its Facebook page debuted, and the Facebook Live video she posted drew 20,000 views. She said the campaign also raised $6,000 in small donations before it even solicited any, adding, “And you know I’ll be asking, real soon.”

The campaign also announced the endorsements of Haynie and Smith, who spoke on her behalf Wednesday, as well as Democratic state Senator Victor Torres of Orlando, Democratic state Rep. Amy Mercado of Orlando, and Henry Lim, an Orlando immigration attorney who ran for the same seat last year, losing in the Democratic primary.

Smith suggested Eskamani’s immediate entry could mirror what he did, getting into his House District 49 race in late 2015 as soon as that incumbent Republican, state Rep. Rene Plasencia, announced he would switch to House District 50. Smith raised plenty of money early and never faced a serious challenger.

However, there are serious potential contenders looking closely at the HD 47 race, which is a district far more politically diverse than HD 49. It includes upper-income, predominantly Republican communities in Winter Park, Baldwin Park, and Belle Isle; lower-income, predominantly African-American communities such as Holden Heights and Fairview Shores; large Hispanic communities in the Conway; and the highly-diverse east-side of central Orlando.

In her kickoff speech, Eskamani pledged to work with that diversity, saying, “This is what Orlando looks like,” and then added she would be standing up especially “for our women and girls…. Peace and justice: that is our battle cry.”

 

Chris King picks up Nick Duran’s endorsement in Democrats’ governor race

Chris King’s performance in the Democratic candidates’ gubernatorial forum earlier this month in Fort Lauderdale apparently won him the backing of at least one South Florida lawmaker, state Rep. Nicholas Duran of Miami.

Duran, a freshman who emerged in this year’s Legislative Session as a leading voice for the Democrats on health care policy and anti-addition policy, announced his endorsement of King Wednesday morning, through King’s campaign.

“Chris’s performance during the Gubernatorial Forum last week confirmed what I’ve known for months now: that he can go toe-to-toe with the eventual Republican nominee and win the economic debate,” Duran stated in a news release issued by King’s campaign.

Before anyone can face the eventual Republican nominee, King faces former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham of Tallahassee and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum for the Democratic nomination to run for governor in 2018. The trio shared a stage at the Democrats’ Leadership Blue Gala in Fort Lauderdale. Agriculture Secretary Adam Putnam is the only major Republican in the race.

“Chris King is the candidate for governor who can bring a truly fresh approach to politics,” Duran continued. “His values and record as a progressive entrepreneur will energize Florida’s economy and create new opportunity for small businesses and workers across the state. I’m proud to announce my endorsement of Chris King for governor. I look forward to working with him and his team in the coming months to move our party and state forward.”

Duran was the lead sponsor of House Bill 557 – The Controlled Substance Prescribing Act. Working with Democratic state Sen. Jeff Clemens, Duran passed the bill with overwhelming support from both chambers to help combat Florida’s opioid epidemic by modernizing the state’s prescription drug monitoring program.

“I’m thrilled to have the support of such an energetic and solutions-oriented leader here in Miami,” King stated in the release. “Rep. Duran has been a strong advocate for some of the most pressing issues facing the community, including health care and prescription drug abuse prevention. I’m looking forward to collaborating with him on these issues and others here in Miami and across the state so we can work together to lift up Florida’s hardworking families.”

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