WASHINGTON – Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist Seymour Hersh appears to have dropped a bombshell in audio released Tuesday – pointing out that the DNC emails obtained by WikiLeaks stopped pouring in after the mysterious murder of DNC staffer Seth Rich in 2016.
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In the audio, Hersh also claims an FBI report described to him by an insider confirms that Rich, the DNC voter-expansion data director, had taken some emails to WikiLeaks and requested payment for a full trove of DNC emails during the presidential campaign.
In fact, the latest DNC email released by WikiLeaks was dated May 18, 2016 – just weeks before Rich was shot twice in the back with a handgun.
"There are no DNC or Podesta emails that exist beyond May 21 or 22, last email from either one of those groups. What the report says is that some time in late spring … he makes contact with WikiLeaks, that's in his computer," Hersh says in audio almost certainly recorded by financier Ed Butowsky, who hired private investigator Rod Wheeler to investigate the murder of DNC staffer Seth Rich last July.
Hersh continued: "Anyway, they found what he had done is that he had submitted a series of documents — of emails, of juicy emails, from the DNC."
Related story: "Seymour Hersh: Spy chiefs invented Russia-collusion story"
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The following audio was first posted late Tuesday afternoon on a site called Big League Politics. It went viral after it was linked on Twitter by WikiLeaks. (Warning: This audio contains explicit language may offend some readers.)
As WND has reported, Rich, 27, had accepted a position with Hillary Clinton's campaign just before his death. He was murdered in Washington, D.C., near his apartment in an affluent neighborhood. His wallet, credit cards, watch and phone were left in his possession. The Metropolitan Police Department has described the murder as a "botched robbery." A year later, no suspects have been named, and no one has been arrested.
As WND also reported, a manager at Lou's City Bar, the last known location where Rich was seen before his murder, claims police never interviewed the bar's staff or requested evidence, such as footage from security cameras. And police never questioned Rich's DNC co-workers.
Furthermore, WND reported, emergency responders, along with the Metropolitan Police Department and two local hospitals, are refusing to reveal what hospital admitted and treated Rich before a physician pronounced him dead on July 10, 2016. And the D.C. Office of the Chief Medical Examiner has refused to release Rich's autopsy report.
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On July 22, just 12 days after Rich's death and days before the Democratic Party Convention in Philadelphia, WikiLeaks began publishing "44,053 emails and 17,761 attachments" from top DNC officials. Some of the emails showed DNC officials conspiring to sabotage Bernie Sanders' candidacy and help secure the party nomination for Hillary Clinton.
On the audio recording, Hersh says his information came from a source "on the inside," a "very high-level guy" who is "unbelievably accurate and careful." He said WikiLeaks was able to acquire access to a password-protected dropbox that contained the emails.
Hersh also claims the DNC invented a story alleging Russian "hacking," with help from CIA Director John Brennan, as a cover story.
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While Hersh said he believes the MPD's "botched robbery" account of Rich's murder, he noted that the DNC staffer had been concerned for his safety at the time of his death.
As WND reported, in an August 2016 interview, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange appeared to suggest that Rich was one of his sources.
Rich family 'devastated' by public attention, Wheeler lawsuit
Now the Seth Rich drama will unfold in federal court. As WND reported Tuesday, Wheeler filed a defamation lawsuit against Butowsky and Fox News over a story the network retracted about the investigation. Wheeler alleged they created a false narrative and tried to spread false news about the murder.
Wheeler also claimed President Trump knew of the false statements and tried to spread false news, according to the London Daily Mail.
On Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders claimed President Trump "had no knowledge" of Fox News’ Seth Rich story.
Nonetheless, Wheeler’s complaint, filed in the Southern District of New York, alleges the defendants "worked together to create a false narrative surrounding the death of Rich."
The Daily Mail reported Trump, according to court documents, "wanted the story to include multiple fake quotes which were attributed to Wheeler."
Meanwhile, Rich's family members say they are "devastated" by the frenzy surrounding the murder of their son and the increased attention brought by the new lawsuit. Family spokesman Brad Bauman and the Rich family declined to respond to WND's requests for comment on the lawsuit.
"They didn't ask to be in the middle of the media spotlight," Bauman told CNN Wednesday. "The truth is, all these folks want is to find the murderer, or murderers, that did this."
Bauman said the Rich family is distraught by investigators and reporters seeking to connect the dots between their son's murder and the DNC email leaks.
"What I can tell you is, they've been utterly devastated this past year," he told CNN, adding that public speculation about Rich's murder is hindering the family's ability to cope.
"Since Seth's passing last July, they have done nothing but try to maintain a sense of loss and to grieve the way a family is meant to grieve. Over and over again, because of conspiracy theories that have popped up, they have been deprived of that opportunity to move forward," he said.
"They have been deprived of the opportunity to seek some new normal," Bauman continued. "And, frankly, they believe the police have been deprived of the ability to prosecute the crime."
He added: "I will tell you from the perspective of the family, regardless of the merits of the lawsuit, regardless of the merits of what's being said and regardless of the merits of whether or not the White House had any influence on this or not, all they really want at this point is for this to go away. They just want to be left alone. And they want to give the Metropolitan Police Department the time and space that they need in order to accomplish the goal of finding the murders."
Rich's family released the following statement Tuesday: "While we can't speak to the evidence that you now have, we are hopeful this brings to an end what has been the most emotionally difficult time in our lives, and an end to conspiracy theories surrounding our beloved Seth."
Fox News and DNC weigh in on Wheeler's lawsuit
Now Fox News is forcefully disputing Wheeler's claims. And the DNC has finally decided to chime in on the Rich case – but only to point the finger at Trump.
"The accusation that FoxNews.com published Malia Zimmerman's story to help detract from coverage of the Russia collusion issue is completely erroneous," Fox News Channel's Jay Wallace told the Daily Mail. "The retraction of this story is still being investigated internally, and we have no evidence that Rod Wheeler was misquoted by Zimmerman."
Also, DNC spokeswoman Xochitl Hinojosa released a statement Tuesday blasting the Trump administration.
"If these allegations are true, it is beyond vile that the White House – and possibly even Trump himself – would use the murder of a young man to distract the public's attention from their chaotic administration and Trump's ties to Russia," Hinojosa said on behalf of the DNC.
"The Rich family has begged those responsible for these conspiracies to stop. And yet, Trump's allies have ignored their pain and their pleas, degrading the office of the president by spreading repulsive lies.
"This should outrage any decent human being. There is no excuse for the suffering that Trump's associates and their conspirators at Fox have caused the Rich family and those closest to him. Both parties should denounce these sick and twisted tactics."
As WND reported, the total reward for solving Rich's murder currently stands at approximately a half-million dollars. However, the DNC has offered no reward for information leading to the arrest of the murderer of its own young staffer. Instead, the DNC honored its murdered employee by dedicating a bike rack outside its headquarters to Rich's memory.
Just weeks ago, WND was on the scene as dozens of Americans gathered outside DNC headquarters in Washington to honor Rich's memory on the one-year anniversary of his murder.
But Democrats laughed as they passed the crowd, which held a silent vigil and later chanted, "Justice for Seth Rich!"
Some DNC employees peered out the windows of their headquarters building.
As other Democrats left their workplace, vigil attendees asked questions about Rich. But no one would talk about their late colleague, except two DNC staffers who became defensive and accused the attendees of making Rich's death "political" and "picking alternative facts."
Some women who worked for the DNC snickered as they passed the vigil.
One man said, "You guys are pathetic."
Watch as WND asks locals for their thoughts on Seth Rich murder and investigation:
Some snags in Wheeler's stories?
Amid all the swirling speculation and reporting, numerous public statements made by Wheeler appear to contradict key claims the former homicide detector alleged in the lawsuit he filed.
His suit, for which he requests a jury trial, is premised on the assertion that Fox News erroneously reported that he believed there was a connection between Rich and WikiLeaks.
Yet, he told WND on numerous occasions that he believes the investigation into Rich's murder is being stalled by the Metropolitan Police Department, or MPD. And that the DNC has had some involvement with the case.
In May, Wheeler told WND that former DNC interim chairwoman Donna Brazile called police and Rich's family demanding to know why a private investigator was "snooping" into Rich's murder. He claimed the MPD withheld information from him pertaining to Rich's murder after Brazile made the call.
Wheeler also told WND that the Rich family informed him that their spokesman, Bauman, was "assigned" to speak on behalf of the family by the DNC. Bauman emphatically denied that the DNC is funding his salary, calling claims that he was hired by the DNC "patently 100 percent false."
Last week, Wheeler, who was fired from the MPD in 1995, told WND he arranged a meeting between members of the MPD investigating Rich's murder and Capitol Hill investigators who were probing Russia's alleged involvement in the 2016 presidential election.
Wheeler claimed to have advised the two parties to "compare notes" on the hacking of the DNC emails.
"I thought they should meet with D.C. police regarding the Seth Rich case because I thought they may find some correlation between the two things that they were doing," he continued. "Hill investigators were very interested in meeting with D.C. police – they had never met with them pertaining to the Seth Rich case. The D.C. police detective was very interested in meeting with the Hill investigators."
While Wheeler claims in his lawsuit that Rich's alleged ties to WikiLeaks were propagandized by the White House, he has previously said he suspects Seth's brother, Aaron Rich, helped the DNC staffer leak the emails. Wheeler alleged the Rich family refused to hire him unless he agreed to ignore Rich's emails, computers and potential WikiLeaks associations.
In recorded audio of a phone call leaked by Big League Politics Tuesday, Wheeler says Aaron blocked him from investigating any connections Seth might have made to WikiLeaks.
"He said no. [Aaron] said, 'I have [Seth's] computer,'" Wheeler said.
"I said, well can I look at it? …
"He said, 'What are you looking for?'
"I said, 'Anything that could indicate if Seth was having problems with someone.'
"He said, 'No, I already checked it. Don't worry about it.'"
In the audio, Wheeler also claims Aaron blocked him from determining who was at a party Seth is rumored to have attended on the night of his murder.
"All I want you to do is work on the botched-robbery theory, and that's it," Aaron allegedly told Wheeler.