A lawsuit filed on Tuesday morning by a Fox News contributor says the network worked with a wealthy Trump donor to fabricate a story about former DNC staffer Seth Rich’s murder, with the approval of the White House.
“Not to add any more pressure but the president just read the article. He wants the article out immediately. It’s not all up to you. But don’t feel the pressure,” wealthy Trump supporter Ed Butowsky texted to longtime Fox News contributor Rod Wheeler, according to the suit, which was obtained by TheWrap. The “president” referred to in the alleged text message (pictured below) is President Donald Trump, the suit says.
Wheeler filed the lawsuit against Fox News Channel on Tuesday in the Southern District of New York. Wheeler says that Fox News and the Trump supporter wanted to shift public attention away from Russia and made up quotes to help the narrative. The suit claims that an article by Malia Zimmerman was published to “establish that Seth Rich provided WikiLeaks with the DNC emails to shift the blame from Russia.”
Rich (pictured below) was murdered last year in what police call a botched robbery, but multiple conspiracy theorists have said his death had something to do with WikiLeaks.
“Incredibly, according to Butowsky, the President reviewed an article written by a Fox News journalist prior to its publication,” the suit says. However, Butowsky told NPR, which first obtained the suit, he was only kidding about Trump’s involvement.
Former Press Secretary Sean Spicer told NPR that he met with Butowsky, but only as a “favor” to the prominent GOP donor and said he was unaware if Trump had any contact.
21st Century Fox, reporter Malia Zimmerman and Butowsky are named as defendants in the suit.
Fox News president Jay Wallace told NPR there was no “concrete evidence” that false or misleading quotes were attributed to Wheeler.
According to the legal filing, the fabricated quotes by Wheeler include: “My investigation up to this point shows there was some degree of email exchange between Seth Rich and Wikileaks.”
“Wheeler was subsequently forced to correct the false record and, as a result, lost all credibility in the eyes of the public. Mr. Wheeler has suffered irreparable damage to his reputation and his career will likely never recover,” the suit claims.
Fox News president Jay Wallace provided the following statement to TheWrap: “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.”
The lawsuit says that Butowsky is “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 D.C. Police homicide detective and current private investigative consultant, crime analyst and Fox News contributor. The suit says Butowsky hired Wheeler to investigate Rich’s murder.
“As it turned out, Butowsky and Zimmerman were not simply Good Samaritans attempting to solve a murder. Rather, they were interested in advancing a political agenda for the Trump Administration,” the suit says.
The suit continues: “Specifically, it was their aim to have Mr. Wheeler confirm that: Seth Rich was responsible for the leak of DNC emails to WikiLeaks; and Seth Rich was murdered by a Democrat operative because he leaked the emails to WikiLeaks.”
According to the court document, Butowsky and Zimmerman sought to link Rich to leaked DNC emails to WikiLeaks and debunk reports the Russians were actually responsible for the DNC hacks.
“Rod Wheeler unfortunately was used as a pawn by Ed Butowsky, Fox News and the Trump administration to try and steer away the attention that was being given about the Russian hacking of the DNC e-mails,” Wheeler’s lawyer, Douglas Wigdor, told NPR.
Back in May, Rich’s family blasted Fox News and other outlets for promoting unfounded versions of the story.
“It’s sad but unsurprising that a group of media outlets who have repeatedly lied to the American people would try and manipulate the legacy of a murder victim in order to forward their own political agenda,” a spokesman for the Rich family told Business Insider at the time. “I think there is a special place in hell for people like that.”