Gage Skidmore / Flickr sean hannity...
Gage Skidmore / Flickr

A new lawsuit has been filed by Fox News contributor Rod Wheeler alleging Fox News investigative reporter Malia Zimmerman worked with wealthy Republican donor Ed Butowsky, who also happens to be a part-time Fox News contributor, to create a phony story around the murder of Seth Rich, the DNC staffer who was murdered in Washington, D.C. last summer in a robbery gone wrong. The now retracted Fox News story claimed Seth Rich was the Wikileaks source for the hacked DNC emails, something his family and police have vigorously denied. From the New York Times in May:

Citing unnamed sources, Fox News’s website published an article last week suggesting that Mr. Rich’s death was in retaliation for his sharing D.N.C. emails with WikiLeaks — a theory that, if true, would undercut the notion of Russian political interference and, in turn, offer cover for Mr. Trump.

No evidence to support that theory has emerged, and the Washington Metropolitan Police Department is still investigating the death of Mr. Rich. Mr. Rich’s family, believing he was murdered during a failed robbery, has called for retractions from news organizations that promoted the story; on Tuesday, Fox News agreed.

Emphasis added because that sentence from the May 2017 New York Times article shows why this story is a big deal. Yuge. And explains why Sean Hannity may have continued to promote the conspiracy theory, right up until the Rich family publicly pleaded with him to stop.

Wheeler’s lawsuit contains explosive details of how Butowsky and Fox News investigative producer Malia Zimmerman fabricated quotes and propelled the story to prime time, front and center on Sean Hannity’s show. The lawsuit also contains copies of messages from Butowsky to Wheeler, saying the president himself reviewed the story before it aired and was pushing for them to get the story out there as cover for the Russia investigation:

Wheeler, a former DC Metropolitan Police Department homicide detective and Fox News contributor, says the network fabricated two quotes from him that he never said.

Court papers also claim that Fox News sent an article draft to the White House for review, and allegedly took direct orders from Trump to connect the DNC to Rich’s murder “to help lift the cloud of the Russia investigation.” Trump’s campaign is under investigation for possible collusion with Russia.

In fact, Butowsky and Wheeler met with Sean Spicer to discuss the story a full month before it aired on Fox News. David Folkenflik of NPR has a lengthy breakdown of the lawsuit details. You can hear the full NPR discussion on the lawsuit at the link below, but here are a few damning details of the messages from Butowsky to Wheeler. 

On May 14, about 36 hours before Fox News’ story appeared, Butowsky left a voicemail for Wheeler, saying, “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.”

Butowsky also texted Wheeler: “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.”

When contacted by NPR, Butowsky told them he was only joking. Hahahahaha! “The president just read the article. He wants the article out immediately.” Isn’t that hilarious? What a jokester!

According to Wheeler, the night before the story aired, Butwosky then stayed up all night to send helpful framing tips to the Fox News team:

Butowsky sends an email to Fox News producers and hosts coaching them on how to frame the Rich story, according to the lawsuit. Recipients included Fox & Friends hosts, Steve Doocy, Ainsley Earhardt and Brian Kilmeade, among others.

When Wheeler protested the fabricated quotes, Butowsky encouraged him to stick to the script:

Butowsky weighs in: “One day you’re going to win an award for having said those things you didn’t say.” Later, according to the recordings transcribed in the suit, Butowsky acknowledges Wheeler hadn’t made any claims of personal knowledge about emails between Rich and WikiLeaks. “I know that’s not true,” Butowsky says. “If I’m under oath, I would say I never heard him say that.”

Listen to NPR’s full report, with all the sordid details, here:

For what it’s worth, when Butowsky first introduced himself to Wheeler, he claimed to be the source behind “much of what we know today about Benghazi”:

On Feb. 23, more than six months after Rich’s death, Butowsky introduces himself to Wheeler with a flattering text, citing mutual friends from Fox News. “Behind the scenes, I do a lot of work, (unpaid) helping to uncover certain stories,” Butowsky writes, as recounted in the suit.

“[M]y biggest work was revealing most of what we know today about Benghazi.” Later that day, Butowsky speaks to Wheeler for about 20 minutes by phone, saying his primary aim is to help the Rich family.

And thanks to a leak that set the whole Scaramucci train wreck in motion, we know Donald Trump and Sean Hannity dined at the White House together last week. Did they know this lawsuit was coming? Did they perhaps coordinate their response during this dinner? 

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This is a Creative Commons article. The original version of this article appeared here.


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