A new lawsuit in the Seth Rich murder case alleges that President Donald Trump and former presidential Press Secretary Sean Spicer were involved in the discredited Fox News story on Rich and WikiLeaks that was later retracted. The suit, by private investigator Rod Wheeler, alleges that a Fox News reporter fabricated quotes as part of a plot to divert attention from Russian hacking claims.
The suit filed by PI Rod Wheeler, which you can read in full below, claims that Spicer met with Wheeler and the Trump supporter, Ed Butowsky, who was pushing the story, before it ran. According to the lawsuit, on May 14, 2017, Wheeler received a text message from Butowsky that said Trump read the Fox story before it ran:
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.
However, Fox News is pushing back in court against the Wheeler claims. You can read a recent motion in the case here:
The lawsuit said the president referred to in the text message was Donald Trump. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, in an August 1 press briefing, denied the allegations about Trump in the lawsuit. “He had no knowledge of this story and it’s completely untrue that there was White House involvement in this story,” Sanders said. “Beyond that, this is ongoing litigation and I’d refer you to the actual parties involved who aren’t the White House.”
In a statement, Fox President of News, Jay Wallace, said, “The accusation that FoxNews.com published Malia Zimmerman’s story to help detract from coverage of the Russia collusion issue is completely erroneous. The retraction of this story is still being investigated internally and we have no evidence that Rod Wheeler was misquoted by Zimmerman. Additionally, FOX News vehemently denies the race discrimination claims in the lawsuit – the dispute between Zimmerman and Rod Wheeler has nothing to do with race.”
Rich’s family, in a statement on August 1, said they hope the lawsuit brings an end to the conspiracy theories surrounding Rich’s death.
Rich was a data analyst for the Democratic National Committee who was shot to death in 2016 on a Washington D.C. street in a murder that remains unsolved. Since that time, the case has spawned conspiracy theories that have been hotly criticized by a spokesman for Rich’s family.
You can read the Wheeler lawsuit in full here:
Zimmerman and Fox News published their story less than 36 hours later, alleging, the lawsuit says, “that a murdered Democratic National Committee staffer, Seth Rich, was the source of the now infamous DNC emails leaked by WikiLeaks during the 2016 Presidential primaries.”
The lawsuit alleges, “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.”
The retracted Fox News story had initially reported a supposed bombshell: That Wheeler, a private investigator working for the Rich family, had evidence that Rich was leaking information to WikiLeaks. The network later retracted the story.
The lawsuit was filed on August 1 in a New York federal court against Twenty-First Century Fox, Inc., Fox News Network LLC, Malia Zimmerman, and Ed Butowsky.
Butowsky is a Trump supporter who hired Wheeler. Zimmerman was the reporter on the Fox story. In a story at the time, Buzzfeed reported that Butowsky is “a prominent wealth manager from Dallas and a contributor to Breitbart News who attended President Trump’s inauguration,” who put the Seth Rich family in contact with Wheeler. Butowsky told CNN the claims are “bullsh*t.”
“They said they didn’t feel they were getting any answers,” Butowsky told Buzzfeed. “The investigation wasn’t going anywhere. I said ‘why don’t you hire a private detective?’ They said they didn’t have any money.” He told Buzzfeed that he “offered to pay for a private investigator, and called Wheeler. There, he said, his involvement ended,” but he added that Wheeler had never billed him.
Fox’s president of news told NPR in response to the lawsuit that there is no “concrete evidence” that Zimmerman misquoted Wheeler. Spicer told NPR “that he took the meeting as a favor to Butowsky, a reliable Republican voice. Spicer says he was unaware of any contact involving the president. Butowsky now tells NPR he was kidding about Trump’s involvement.”
The lawsuit also claims that Butkowsky left a voicemail for Wheeler the same day that said, “A couple minutes ago I got a note that we have the full, uh, attention of the White House, on this. And, tomorrow, let’s close this deal, whatever we’ve got to do. But you can feel free to say that the White House is onto this now.”
Asked for comment, Wheeler’s lawyer, Douglas Wigdor, told Heavy, “According to the complaint, at the same time that 21st Century Fox’s General Counsel, Gerson Zweifach, was meeting with the UK regulators in an attempt to convince them that Fox had in place procedures to ensure compliance with broadcasting standards to purchase Sky, Fox News was working with the Trump administration to disseminate fake news in order to distract the public from Russia’s alleged attempts to influence our Country’s presidential election.”
Wheeler alleges in the lawsuit that the reporter, Zimmerman “fabricated two quotations and attributed them to Mr. Wheeler.”
Those quotations were:
“My investigation up to this point shows there was some degree of email exchange between Seth Rich and WikiLeaks.”
And: “My investigation shows someone within 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.”
Alleges the lawsuit, “According to Butowsky, the statements were falsely attributed to Mr. Wheeler because that is the way the President wanted the article. Zimmerman, Butowsky and Fox had created fake news to advance President Trump’s agenda.”
The suit alleges that Wheeler had to “correct the false record and “lost all credibility in the eyes of the public.”
The lawsuit alleges that Butowsky is “a frequent contributor for Fox News and Fox Business Channel, an outspoken supporter of Donald Trump and opponent of Hillary Clinton and a friend to former Press Secretary Sean Spicer and Chief Strategist Steve Bannon.”
Wheeler is a former Washington DC police homicide detective and is also a Fox News contributor.
Butowsky had contacted Wheeler and offered “to bankroll an investigation into Seth Rich’s murder,” in February 2017, the lawsuit alleges.
The suit alleges that Butowsky kept in “regular contact with Trump Administration officials,” including Spicer, White House strategist Steve Bannon and Director of Public Affairs at the Department of Justice, Sarah Flores, regarding “his efforts relating to Seth Rich.”
Furthermore, says the suit, Spicer met with Butowsky and Wheeler and they “provided him with a copy of Mr. Wheeler’s investigative notes.” The suit claims that “Mr. Spicer asked to be kept abreast of developments.”
Wheeler claims he confronted Butowsky after the story came out, and Butowsky wrote Zimmerman, “I didn’t tell you yet but the federal government is involved at this moment, behind the scenes and believe your story.”
Butowsky sent messages to Fox News producers and to Wheeler that pushed the notion that the Russian narrative regarding DNC hacking was false and disproved by the Rich angle, the lawsuit contends.
Example of a text message he allegedly sent Wheeler: “The Narrative in the interviews you might use is that your and Malia’s work prove that the Russians didn’t hack into the DNC and steal the emails and impact our election.”
Fox News retracted the story on May 23 saying that it “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.”