A private investigator's claim that Democratic National Committee staff member Seth Rich was communicating with WikiLeaks just before his July 2016 murder in Washington, D.C., has erupted into a firestorm, casting new light on the unsolved case.
The murder took place the same month emails released by WikiLeaks on the eve of the Democratic National Convention revealed the Democratic National Committee was manipulating the party's primary to ensure Hillary Clinton defeated Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont for the party's presidential nomination.
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The murder remains under investigation. As WND reported, Rich was shot in the back at 4:18 a.m. on July 10, 2016, near his home in an affluent neighborhood in Washington.
Rich had been at Lou's City Bar a couple of miles from his house until about 1:15 a.m. There, a worker offered him a ride home because he appeared intoxicated. But Rich instead said he was going to Wonderland Ballroom, another bar a few blocks away.
However, there were no witnesses of his whereabouts from the time he left Lou's until police on patrol heard gunfire and then found him wounded in the street.
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Joel Rich, Seth's father, said at the time if it was robbery, it failed, as his son still has his watch, money, credit cards and phone.
The London Daily Mail sent researchers to Washington to look into the timeline that night.
The news agency concluded its information "cuts against conspiracy theories that claimed the DNC staffer was assassinated or on his way to an FBI meeting when he was killed."
But it conceded the crucial time frame leading up to his death still remains "unaccounted for." It noted the "international speculation and conspiracy theories," including that Rich gave sensitive DNC documents to WikiLeaks.
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The Daily Mail said Rich was at Lou's City Bar that evening, alone, as he often was.
He had befriended Lou's bartenders and others, liked to discuss sports and politics, and was described as "a Midwestern kind of guy."
That night "something was clearly bothering Rich," said the report, which said "those who knew him said he had been having problems with his girlfriend – and he seemed to drink more than usual."
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At closing, the Mail said, he was "uncharacteristically unsteady on his feet," and instead of accepting an offer of a ride home, said he was going to Wonderland.
"Rich left on foot, but it is unclear if he ever ended up going to Wonderland, a crowded weekend bar known for its live music. He was not well-known to the employees there. Staffers who worked that night told the Daily Mail that they did not recall whether they saw him based on his photo," the report said.
But as even most late-night bars close around 2:30, and the shooting was reported after 4 a.m., "That leaves as much as an hour and a half between the bars and the shooting unaccounted for," the Mail said.
While there had been other armed robberies in the area over the summer, including two on the same corner where Rich was shot, the Mail said, the fact Rich apparently was not robbed raised questions.
At the time of the murder, the turmoil for the DNC was escalating.
On July 5, 2016, then-FBI Director James Comey held a news conference in which he blasted Clinton for her careless handling of national secrets while secretary of state.
Among other things, Comey said, "Although we did not find clear evidence that Secretary Clinton or her colleagues intended to violate laws governing the handling of classified information, there is evidence that they were extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information."
And he said Clinton's emails included seven message chains with information classified as top secret.
"None of these emails should have been on any kind of unclassified system," he said.
He concluded, nevertheless, that "no reasonable prosecutor would bring such a case," essentially stepping out of his role as an investigator and into the role of a prosecutor.
The announcement was only days after former President Bill Clinton met in private on an airport tarmac with then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch, who was Comey's boss.
When news of the private meeting was revealed, Bill Clinton and Lynch insisted they talked only about personal matters, such as grandchildren, not the FBI investigation of Clinton's wife, the former secretary of state, former first lady and front-runner for the Democratic Party presidential nomination.
It was at that time when, under the administration of President Barack Obama, the FBI began a probe into claims of possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russia that included whether Russia hacked the DNC to benefit Trump.
The issue of emails exploded into the headlines when a trove of nearly 20,000 messages was released shortly after Rich's death.
The Washington Post said that provided "an embarrassing inside look at Democratic Party operations."
Indeed, they included "discussions of Clinton's chief rival for the presidential nomination, Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vt.; details of perks provided to party donors attending the convention, and email exchanges between party officials, journalists and others."
Those caught in the discussions included DNC Communications Director Luis Miranda, National Finance Director Jordon Kaplan and Finance Chief of Staff Scott Comer .
The Washington Post at the time reported "Russian government hackers penetrated the computer network of the Democratic National Committee, gaining access to an entire database of opposition research."
Clinton defense 'shredded'
The progressive-leaning Politifact concluded the email dump "shredded Clinton's most oft-recited defense – that she never sent or received information marked classified."
The group previously rated Clinton's comments on the subject half-true.
"Now we know it's just plain wrong."
The organization also pointed out that although Clinton said she turned over all work-related emails to the State Department, she didn't, as Comey reported FBI investigators uncovered "several thousand" work-related emails that she had not handed over.
No matter exactly what the American public knew about the scandals, or what they thought, the polls showed Trump climbing at that time.
David Mastio, deputy editorial page editor of USA Today, wrote at the time: "The election is still 102 days away. Clinton's historic candidacy has a special appeal to the smarter half of the American electorate, and it is backed by both of America's first black presidents. The Clinton machine features such finely tuned fundraising machinery that Tesla engineers turn greener at the very sight. Its battle-hardened communications apparatus has already set records in selling high efficiency American-fueled natural gas furnaces to Saudi royalty."
But he concluded Trump would be president because "every time a Clintonite attacks Trump it is getting hard not to giggle, or at least titter."
"Before the convention, Hillary Clinton herself launched an attack on Trump that blew past titters and giggles and straight into guffaw territory. Trump is terrifying enough with the power of social media, she intoned, but 'imagine if he had not just Twitter and cable news to go after his critics and opponents, but also the IRS.'"
But Mastio pointed out: "Yes, imagine a president who would abuse the powers of the IRS. Not to paint Clinton with the unfair and overbroad brush of guilt by association, but the administration in which she served as secretary of state, twice, accidentally, released the private taxpayer information of its political opponents at moments that, perhaps inadvertently, were politically damaging. And then there was the 'targeting' of the administration’s Tea Party opponents by the Obama administration IRS while Clinton was coincidentally serving as secretary of state. For non-political reasons no doubt, the Obama administration is still fighting in court to keep the full details of those events from the public eye."
The DNC also was handing out bonuses to staff members instead of returning taxpayer-funded grants for the DNC hosting committee to taxpayers.
At the Democratic convention, Clinton won the nomination with less than 60 percent of the vote. Sen. Sanders got the rest.
The emails even disrupted the celebratory events, with revelations that the party was actively favoring Clinton over Sanders.
The email revelations led to the resignation of the DNC's chairwoman, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, just before the convention.
Also that same month, Clinton met with the FBI for an interview as part of the investigation into her use of a private email server while leading the State Department.
Lynch made clear there would be no charges against Clinton for her use of a personal email server.
House Speaker Paul Ryan also asked Director of National Intelligence James Clapper to deny Clinton access to any classified information for the rest of the 2016 campaign, CNN reported.
Peter Schweizer of the Government Accountability Institute wrote at that time that Clinton had signed affirmations declaring "she had turned over all of her work-related emails."
"We now know that is not true."
He also pointed out anomalies in Clinton's emails.
"The email traffic for the secretary of state seems for the most part to be event-driven. For example, during Moammar Gadhafi's removal from power in Libya, on Aug. 22, 2011, Clinton received 133 work-related emails, way more than average."
During times with few events, the traffic declined.
"But then there is an instance where the State Department cable traffic rises and there are few if any Clinton corresponding emails. It's the case of Rosatom, the Russian State Nuclear Agency: Clinton and senior officials at the State Department received dozens of cables on the subject of Rosatom's activities around the world, including a hair-raising cable about Russian efforts to dominate the uranium market. As secretary of state, Clinton was a central player in a variety of diplomatic initiatives involving Rosatom officials. But strangely, there is only one email that mentions Rosatom in Clinton's entire collection, an innocuous email about Rosatom's activities in Ecuador. To put that into perspective, there are more mentions of LeBron James, yoga and NBC's Saturday Night Live than the Russian Nuclear Agency in Clinton's emails deemed 'official.'
"Remember that a major deal involving Rosatom that was of vital concern to Clinton Foundation donors went down in 2009 and 2010. Rosatom bought a small Canadian uranium company owned by nine investors who were or became major Clinton Foundation donors, sending $145 million in contributions. The Rosatom deal required approval from several departments, including the State Department," he noted.
Also during that month of July, Trump picked Indiana Gov. Mike Pence as his running mate in an effort to lock up the party's conservative base.
The newest twist in the Rich story came Monday when investigator Rod Wheeler, a former D.C. police homicide detective who was hired by the Rich family, told Fox 5 in Washington, D.C., Rich's laptop had evidence indicating he had been in contact WikiLeaks.
"Now, questions have been raised on why D.C. police, the lead agency on this murder investigation for the past ten months, have insisted this was a robbery gone bad when there appears to be no evidence to suggest that," the news station reported.
Watch the Fox 5 report:
An overview of the month of July 2016: