A private investigator hired by the family of Seth Rich, the young Democratic National Committee data analyst whose murder remains unsolved, has recanted claims there is evidence Rich was communicating with WikiLeaks before his death.
Private investigator Rod Wheeler has not produced any evidence, and Rich’s family previously indicated that the murder may have stemmed from a robbery.
On August 1, Wheeler filed a federal lawsuit against Fox, the reporter on the story, and a Dallas wealth manager named Ed Butowsky. The lawsuit claims that Donald Trump and Sean Spicer were involved in pushing the story and that Wheeler’s quotes were fabricated to shift the narrative on Trump and Russia to WikiLeaks and Rich. Fox News says the retraction of the story remains under investigation but denies the network purposely tried to change the Trump/Russia narrative.
According to UK Daily Mail, Wheeler recanted his comments, and Rich’s family sent the private investigator “a cease and desist letter threatening legal action after he claimed – and then recanted- that Rich was in contact with WikiLeaks before he was gunned down in July.”
According to NBC News, a lawyer for the Rich family sent a letter to Wheeler that said, “Your statements and actions have caused, and continue to cause, the Family severe mental anguish and emotional distress. Your behavior appears to have been deliberate, intentional, outrageous, and in patent disregard of the Agreement and the obvious damage and suffering it would cause the Family. Your improper and unauthorized statements, many of which are false and have no basis in fact, have also injured the memory and reputation of Seth Rich and have defamed and injured the reputation and standing of the members of the Family.”
NBC News reported of Wheeler, “Wheeler has since completely recanted his story, both in the press and in a private message to Rich’s family. The private investigator told other outlets the Fox reporter essentially put words in his mouth by giving him information that he then repeated in an on-camera interview.” Although the family has asked for an apology and retraction from Fox 5, none has been granted thus far, reported NBC.
Wheeler stepped back from the Fox 5 account in interviews, now telling Fox News that he had no personal knowledge of whether Rich emailed WikiLeaks and said, “I don’t know for sure, I don’t know as a matter of fact if the emails went out to the Wikileaks or anybody else. But it sure appears that way.” He told Buzzfeed that the Fox 5 account was not accurate.
According to the New York Times, the Rich family is demanding retractions from Fox.
Fox has now retracted its story, writing:
“On May 16, a story was posted on the Fox News website on the investigation into the 2016 murder of DNC Staffer Seth Rich. The article was not initially subjected to the high degree of editorial scrutiny we require for all our reporting. Upon appropriate review, the article was found not to meet those standards and has since been removed.
We will continue to investigate this story and will provide updates as warranted.”
The Rich family released a statement on May 16, decrying conspiracy theories and “fake evidence” in the case.
Shortly after the report about Wheeler’s claims, a Twitter account in the name of WikiLeaks’ founder Julian Assange retweeted the Fox 5 story on Wheeler without comment. The unverified account has 174,000 followers.
The new report was published on May 15 by Fox 5, a television station in Washington D.C. Wheeler is a former homicide detective in D.C., according to Fox 5, and he’s a Fox News contributor. One Fox story said of Wheeler: “Former D.C. homicide detective points finger at Obama administration, explains why things will be better with Trump.”
NBC News reports that a Dallas-based financial adviser, Ed Butowsky, “a Fox News contributor who has written articles for Breitbart” is the person who urged the Rich parents to hire Wheeler.
Fox5 says Wheeler was hired by Rich’s family and is “running a parallel investigation into Rich’s murder.”
Seth Conrad Rich’s unsolved murder on a Washington D.C. street had already sparked a flurry of conspiracy theories even before the latest report because he was a staffer and self-described data analyst for the Democratic National Committee.
WikiLeaks is offering a $20,000 reward for information leading to a conviction in Rich’s death (that’s in addition to a previous $25,000 reward being offered in the case).
Rich, 27, who worked for the DNC on voting issues and whose murder was highlighted by Hillary Clinton in a speech, was shot and killed in Washington D.C., and his murder remains mysterious. “Police have found little information to explain his death,” said The New York Daily News.
Conspiracy theories rage about Rich’s death because of his DNC employment and also the lack of an obvious motive, eyewitnesses, or suspect in the case. Rich, 27, was shot on July 10, 2016 at 4:15 in the morning near a Washington D.C. neighborhood where he lived, said CBS News.
In the Rich homicide case, The Washington Post wrote on July 11: “Police said they have no suspects, witnesses or motive, though they are looking at whether Rich could have been slain in an attempted robbery.”
Washington D.C. Metropolitan police public affairs told Heavy on August 9: “At this time, there is no indication that Seth Rich’s death is connected to his employment at the DNC. However, we welcome information that could potentially lead to the identification of the individual(s) responsible for his death and are pleased when any outside contributors help us generate new leads.”
Numerous news sites, such as NBC, have reported that government officials and security firms believe that Russian intelligence was behind the DNC leak; WikiLeaks denies being tied to Russian intelligence but won’t reveal its sources for the emails, which, among other things, appeared to show DNC officials favoring Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders during the primary. The FBI is now investigating whether Trump campaign officials colluded with alleged Russian interference into the 2016 presidential election.
NBC Channel 4 in Washington says that Seth’s mother, Mary Rich, previously said that police “told her family her son may have been the victim of an attempted robbery.” In August, Mary joined police in a press conference in which she asked the public for help in providing tips.
However, after Assange spoke about the death, and WikiLeaks offered its reward, the Rich family asked, through a spokesman, that people stop politicizing the tragedy.
Rich’s father told The Washington Post that Seth’s watch, wallet and credit cards were not taken, but he thinks Rich was “killed after resisting a robbery in which the assailant got nothing.”
Daily Mail says Rich was attacked across the street from a convenience store on the 2100 block of Flagler Place NW, not far from a brownstone he shared with three or four roommates. Rich was from Omaha, “where his family played a strong role in the Beth El Synagogue,” said Daily Mail.
However, Acting Capt. Anthony Haythe of the Metropolitan Police Department’s homicide branch said in a July news conference that all motives were being considered, said CBS. The New York Daily News quoted police as saying, “There is no immediate indication that robbery was a motive in the attack…but it has not been ruled out as a possibility.”
The police said they are investigating whether Rich’s death was linked to other robberies in the area, and his roommate told WUSA9 that Rich “was probably walking home from his girlfriend’s apartment when he was robbed and then shot.” The Washington Post said there were two robberies “in the city in the hour preceding the shooting, both more than one mile away.”
Rich’s mother told NBC Channel 4 in Washington D.C. that her son’s “hands were bruised, his knees are bruised, his face is bruised, and yet he had two shots to his back, and yet they never took anything.”
The Washington D.C. Medical Examiner’s office told Heavy that Rich died from gunshot wound to the torso, and his manner of death was homicide. The office did not say how many times Rich was shot and said that autopsy reports are not publicly released to the news media in D.C.
According to The Washington Post, Rich had multiple gunshot wounds, and at least one was in the back. The shooting occurred in northwest Washington D.C.’s Bloomingdale neighborhood, said WUSA9. Rich was taken to the hospital, where he died, said WUSA9.
Rich was discovered by police on patrol in the area and was conscious and breathing at first, said CNN. He was talking on the phone with his girlfriend when the shooting happened and told her not to worry about it when she heard a noise, said NBC 4.
Hillary Clinton mentioned Rich’s death in a speech.
The Washington Post has posted video of that speech. “Surely, we can agree that weapons of war have no place on the streets of America,” Clinton said after mentioning Rich as an example of someone killed who doesn’t always make the headlines. She said he had worked on voting rights for the DNC.
Two days before Rich died, he posted a plea on Facebook to end gun violence, saying, “I have family and friends on both sides of the law. Please, stop killing each other,” says UK Daily Mail.
According to CBS, former Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz said that Rich was a “dedicated, selfless public servant who worked tirelessly to protect the most sacred right we share as Americans.”
To People Magazine, friends described Rich as self-deprecating, non apathetic, a bit of a goofball, and someone who “would stand up for anybody.”
On his LinkedIn page, Rich described himself as “Experienced and impassioned data analyst. I have an enormous interest in public service and working towards making the world a better place.” The page says that Rich had worked as the DNC’s Voter Expansion Data Director since 2014.
Before that, he was a Research Data Associate for Greenberg Quinlan Rosner; a Boating Education Director and Staff Programming Director at Camp Ramah in Wisconsin; a research intern for Senator Ben Nelson; a member of the campaign staff for the Nebraska Democratic Party, an enumerator for the Census Bureau, a field organizer for Senate campaigns, and other jobs.
People Magazine says he worked on voter expansion efforts for the DNC and The Washington Post says that, as a DNC staffer, he worked on a project to “help voters easily find their polling places.”
Rich graduated from Creighton University with a B.A. in Political Science: Public Policy and History, said his LinkedIn page.
According to Town Hall, Rich had previously worked on the U.S. Senate campaign for Nebraska businessman Scott Kleeb. “The Clinton Global Initiative provided funds for a clean energy business started by Kleeb, which had come under investigation after losing $300,000 in 2010 and another $300,000 in 2011 despite the subsidies,” asserted Town Hall, adding that “Rich was also previously employed at a data firm that had worked with the Clintons.”
Various conspiracy theories have sprouted up about Rich’s death, without concrete evidence to back them up, but fueled in part by the WikiLeaks dump of almost 20,000 DNC emails, which led to the resignation of Wasserman Schultz.
Rich wasn’t the only young man linked to the DNC to die suddenly. Conspiracy theories also surrounded the sudden August death of Shawn Lucas, who helped serve the Democratic National Committee with a lawsuit alleging fraud in the presidential race.
Lucas, 38, died on August 2, confirmed the Washington D.C. medical examiner, but the circumstances of his death remained foggy for months. However, Lucas’ death was eventually labeled an accident as a result of a combination of drugs, including kratom.