An explosive lawsuit filed on Tuesday alleges that the White House and a Republican donor were in cahoots and concocted a story about the murder of Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich.
Rod Wheeler, a Fox News contributor and former homicide detective hired by Rich’s family, filed a lawsuit on Tuesday stating he was used as a pawn by the White House, a Trump supporter named Ed Butowsky and Fox News 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 New York Times reported.
Quotes from a voicemail and text from Butowsky bragging that President Trump reviewed a draft of the now-retracted Fox News article appear on the first page of the lawsuit, NPR reported.
Butowsky recently told NPR that he was only kidding about Trump’s involvement and told CNN that “the lawsuit is bulls—t.” White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders denies the president had any knowledge of the article prior to its publication.
IMPORTANT! Mediamatters is trying to silence me, get me fired, pressure my advertising on radio & TV. Liberal Fascism. I need your help!!— Sean Hannity (@seanhannity) May 23, 2017
Unproven right-wing conspiracy theories have floated for months suggesting that Rich leaked the DNC emails to WikiLeaks during the 2016 election and that his death could have been the result of his betrayal.
No evidence surfaced to support the claims until May, when Fox News published a story that quoted Wheeler saying there was proof showing Rich had been in contact with WikiLeaks.
The network later retracted the article after Wheeler appeared on CNN and accused Fox of fabricating quotes. In the retraction, Fox said the article did not adhere to its editorial standards.
"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 emails," Douglas Wigdor, Wheeler's lawyer, told NPR.
Jay Wallace, Fox's president of news, told NPR on Monday that there was no "concrete evidence" that Wheeler was misquoted by reporter Malia Zimmerman.
Wallace told CNN that 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," he added.
Fox News declined to allow Zimmerman to comment, according to reports.
Washington's Metropolitan Police Department is investigating the July 2016 fatal shooting of 27-year-old Rich, saying there is evidence to suggest the murder took place during a botched robbery.
In a statement, Rich's family said: “While we can’t speak to the evidence that you now have, we are hopeful that this brings an end to what has been the most emotionally difficult time in our lives and an end to conspiracy theories surrounding our beloved Seth.”