The Fox News story was largely based on quotes from rod wheeler, a former homicide detective investigating the case. But the timing set off a conspiracy theory among Trump supporters and those on the far right: that Rich's death was somehow arranged by Democratic officials as payback for his leak of thousands of DNC emails and electronic files to WikiLeaks, which published them.
"In fact, when Mr. Wheeler was interviewed by a Fox affiliate on the evening of May 15, 2017, he made sure not to confirm as fact the proposition that Seth Rich sent emails to WikiLeaks, instead confirming only that a "source" (i.e., [Fox News reporter Malia Zimmerman's] and Butowsky's alleged source) had information that could link Seth Rich to WikiLeaks", the lawsuit states. The complaint alleges Fox and Butowsky wanted to use the Rich story to distract from the attention the White House was drawing over Russian Federation. In the suit, Wheeler also says that Butowsky told him the president had reviewed the story prior to publication and wanted the article published "immediately", he says in the suit.
The suit also alleges that Butowsky kept Sean Spicer, then White House spokesman, and senior Trump aide Steve Bannon, informed about his efforts. He said that even though Fox News retracted the article, it did not clear his name or admit that he had been misquoted and that his "reputation as an objective, credible and intelligent investigator with integrity was completely destroyed".
At the core of the story is a man named Ed Butowsky. For his part, Butowsky told NPR that his statement about Trump approving of the story was a joke. The lawsuit alleges these quotes were made up to the pleasure of the president, something the White House called "completely untrue" Monday. "But don't feel the pressure", the text said.
The motivation behind the story, published a week after the firing of FBI Director James Comey created a firestorm, was to "shift the blame from Russian Federation and help put to bed speculation that President Trump colluded with Russian Federation", the suit said. He told Wheeler, according to the complaint, that he was working with Zimmerman, who was also investigating the murder.
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"According to the complaint, at the same time that 21st Century Fox's General Counsel, Gerson Zweifach, was meeting with the United Kingdom 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", said Douglas Wigdor, a partner at Wigdor, LLP, who is representing Wheeler, in an emailed statement.
"This was Rod and I", Butowsky said to CNN. In a statement, Spicer said Tuesday, "Ed is a longtime supporter of the president's agenda who often appears in the media".
The AP reports that White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders addressed the issue today at a White House briefing. He asked for a 10 minute meeting, with no specified topic, to catch up and said he would be bringing along a contributor to Fox News.
"We have the full, uh, attention of the White House, on this".