Explosive Lawsuit Alleges Trump Reviewed and Approved Bogus Fox News Story on Seth Rich

by Aaron Rupar –

White House officials previously denied any knowledge.

A defamation lawsuit filed by longtime Fox News contributor Rod Wheeler against the network alleges that President Trump was directly involved in concocting a fake story intended to undercut the intelligence community’s conclusion that Russian hackers waged cyberattacks against Democratic targets to help him get elected.

The Fox News story — headlined “DC MURDER MYSTERY: Slain DNC staffer was WikiLeaks’ source, say investigators” — was heavily promoted on Sean Hannity’s show and Fox & Friends, but was retracted by Fox News about a week after it was published. It falsely claimed there was evidence linking slain former Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich with WikiLeaks, which published emails hacked from the DNC.

The explosive lawsuit was first reported by NPR.

Wheeler’s lawsuit begins with a screencap of a text message he received from Ed Butowsky, a Fox News contributor who has also written articles for Breitbart. In May, NBC reported that Butowsky was bankrolling a private investigation into Rich’s death. Butowsky denied any involvement during a conversation with ThinkProgress that took place hours before NBC’s report was published.

On May 14 — the day before Fox News published the story — Wheeler claims Butowsky sent him a text indicating President Trump read the article and wanted it published immediately.

CREDIT: screencap

Wheeler alleges that just before he sent that text, Butowsky left him a voicemail and 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.”

Wheeler claims that the Fox News story, authored by investigative reporter Malia Zimmerman, contained two quotes attributed to him that were completely fabricated. But they were included in the story at Trump’s direction.

The lawsuit claims that Butowsky and Zimmerman hoped the story “would debunk reports the Russian were responsible for the DNC hacks” and “undermine reports of collusion between Russia and the Trump Administration.” It claims that in the weeks ahead of the article’s publication, Butowsky was in touch with then-Press Secretary Sean Spicer, White House strategist Steve Bannon, and Department of Justice spokesperson Sarah Flores “regarding his efforts related to Seth Rich.” Wheeler says he and Butowsky met with Spicer “and provided him with a copy of [Wheeler’s] investigative notes.”

But the day the story was published, Spicer denied having foreknowledge of the Fox News report, saying during the White House press briefing that “I’m not aware of that… it would be highly inappropriate to do that.”

Spicer has now changed his story. He confirmed to NPR that he met with Butowsky after all.

Wheeler claims that he became upset when he read the Fox News piece and saw the fabricated quotes attributed to him.

 

Despite Fox News’ retraction, Wheeler says that the network never cleared his name “and never admitted that Zimmerman had misquoted him.”

“[T]o this day Fox has not issued any statement admitted that the quotes attributed to Mr. Wheeler were not made by him, nor has Fox apologized to Mr. Wheeler,” the lawsuit says.

Butowsky told Vanity Fair media reporter Gabriel Sherman that Wheeler’s allegations are “bullshit” and that he’s never spoken to Trump in his life.

Ed Butowsky tells me federal lawsuit is “bullshit” and denies sharing Fox article with WH. “I’ve never spoken to Trump in my life,” he says.

A call to Butowsky’s cell phone by ThinkProgress was not immediately returned. Wheeler claims that every quotation included in his lawsuit “is from an email, text message, published news article and/or recorded or videotaped conversation.”

 

Reprinted with permission from Think Progress