The controversy over the unsolved murder of Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich one year ago reached a new level this week when an investigator looking into the Washington, D.C., homicide sued Fox News over an allegedly “fake news” report.
The move now gives the federal courts a role in sorting out a quagmire of innuendo and supposition.
Rich was murdered July 10, 2016, on a street near his Washington home. Some have speculated that Rich – who worked in the voter analysis division of the DNC – was a source of the leak of Democratic Party emails to WikiLeaks during the 2016 presidential race.
In an August 2016 interview, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange appeared to suggest that Rich was one of his sources.
On July 22, just 12 days after Rich’s death and three 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 Sen. Bernie Sanders’ candidacy to help secure the party nomination for Hillary Clinton
Now, private homicide detective Rod Wheeler, who previously investigated the Rich murder for the family, has filed a lawsuit against Fox News, Fox reporter Malia Zimmerman and Ed Butowsky, alleging they created a false narrative and tried to spread false news about the death.
Wheeler also claims 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.
“The president had no knowledge of the story,” Sanders said. “And it’s completely untrue that he or the White House involvement [sic] in that story. Beyond that, this is ongoing litigation, and I’d refer you to the actual parties involved, which aren’t the White House.”
Watch Sanders’ statement:
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.”
A text message to Wheeler from Butowsky, a wealth manager in Texas, cites the president’s alleged eagerness to see the story published: “Not to add any more pressure but the president just read the article. He wants the article out immediately. It’s now all up to you. But don’t feel the pressure.”
The lawsuit states: “The motivation behind the article: establish that Seth Rich provided WikiLeaks with the DNC emails to shift the blame from Russia and help put to bed speculation that President Trump colluded with Russia in an attempt to influence the outcome of the presidential election.”
Wheeler alleges in the lawsuit that he got a message from Butowksy that the White House was giving the issue “full attention.”
The filing quotes Butowsky as saying, “But you can feel free to say that the White House is onto this now.”
The Daily Mail said Zimmerman then allegedly “made the decision to add in two quotes which she attributed to Wheeler despite his claim that he never made the comments according to court documents.”
The quotes were:
- “My investigation up to this point shows there was some degree of email exchange between Seth Rich and Wikileaks.”
- “My investigation shows someone with the DC government, Democratic National Committee or Clinton team is blocking the murder investigation from going forward. That is unfortunate. Seth Rich’s murder is unsolved as a result of that.”
Wheeler contends in his claim he’s suffered “irreparable damage to his reputation and his career” as a result.
The lawsuit claims, “According to Butowsky, the statements were falsely attributed to Mr. Wheeler because that is the way the president wanted the article.”
The claim states, “Zimmerman, Butowsky and Fox had created fake news to advance President Trump’s agenda.”
Wheeler claims Zimmerman and Butowsky also had hired him to look into the Rich case, but they already had established their narrative that Rich handed over the DNC emails to WikiLeaks and a member of the DNC murdered him in retaliation, the Mail said.
On Tuesday, Butowsky reportedly told NBC reporter Gabriel Sherman that the lawsuit is “bulls–t.” Sherman said Butowsky denied sharing the Fox article with the White House. Butowsky reportedly said, “I’ve never spoken to Trump in my life.”
Separately, in an interview with NPR’s David Folkenflik, former press secretary Sean Spicer reportedly confirmed that he had an April 20 meeting with Butowsky and Wheeler to discuss the upcoming Fox story, which was later published on May 16.
“It had nothing to do with advancing the president’s domestic agenda – there was no agenda,” Spicer reportedly said. “They were just informing me of the [Fox] story.”
Last week, Wheeler told WND he had agreed to meet with Capitol Hill investigators to discuss evidence of the alleged hacking.
However, Wheeler said the Metropolitan Police Department canceled its meeting with House investigators on the Hill just hours before it was scheduled to take place.
Wheeler told WND he had arranged the meeting between House investigators looking into the alleged Russian interference in the election and members of the MPD probing the unsolved Rich murder.
Incidentally, Wheeler claims that during a discussion with House investigators probing the Russia case, they asked him: What do you know about the Awan brothers?
As WND reported, Imran Awan was arrested by federal agents recently at Dulles Airport in Virginia as he attempted to flee to Pakistan. Awan, who has been charged with bank fraud, headed a group of at least five IT contractors working for dozens of House Democrats, including former Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla. He is suspected of much more, including the possible theft of sensitive information from the office computers of numerous Democratic Party lawmakers and sending that data to a secret server. Awan has somehow acquired the services of one of the top power attorneys in Washington, Chris Gowen, who is deeply connected to Bill and Hillary Clinton.
Wheeler claims a thorough investigation of the Democrats’ IT hacking scandal may reveal more information about Rich’s murder, the 2016 email breach of the Democratic National Committee and the Awan family.
“I’ve been following the arrest of Awan – this is a guy whose name came up a couple of times in my investigation as someone that I should look at,” he said in a phone call to WND. “I never really got a chance to look at them in the investigation – but what I did do – I met with the Capitol Hill investigators.
“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.”
As WND reported, Jack Burkman, head of a team of private investigators in D.C. working to find Rich’s killers, claimed the MPD was instructed by Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser for political reasons to stop investigating Rich’s murder. The MPD and the mayor’s office disputed Burkman’s allegations.
The total reward for solving Rich’s murder currently stands at approximately a half-million dollars. Yet, 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.
The Rich family’s attitude toward Wheeler, Burkman claimed, changed dramatically after Democratic political crisis consultant Brad Bauman became their spokesman. Rich’s family threatened legal action against Wheeler in May after he told a Fox affiliate that he believed police were covering up details about the crime. An attorney representing the family sent Wheeler a cease-and-desist letter on May 19.
Wheeler said he’s uncertain when he’ll be allowed to reveal his report on Rich’s murder, but he is perplexed that Rich’s family has never expressed interest in the report’s findings.
“The cease-and-desist order does not have an expiration date. I don’t know if it’s set up for life or what,” he said. “The family has never asked for my final report. Why not? That’s interesting. Why wouldn’t they ask their investigator, ‘Give us a copy of the report and let us see what’s in it’?”
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