A lawsuit filed in federal court by a Fox News contributor and private investigator claims the news network fabricated quotes and worked directly with President Trump, his White House, and a wealthy supporter of the president, to promote a debunked conspiracy theory about murdered DNC staffer Seth Rich in order to “deflect public attention from growing concern about the administration’s ties to the Russian government,” according to NPR.
Rod Wheeler, a former Washington, D.C., homicide detective who investigated Rich’s murder, filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court after he says his quotes in the story, which were later retracted by Fox, were fabricated by the news network. The story, which first aired in May, was retracted by Fox News a week later.
“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,” states the lawsuit.
Wheeler’s lawsuit names Fox on-air guest Ed Butowsky, a wealth manager and Trump supporter who frequently appears on the network as a guest to provide financial analysis, and reporter Malia Zimmerman, a Fox News investigative reporter. The lawsuit claims Butowsky and Zimmerman “fabricated two quotations and attributed them to Mr. Wheeler.”
The lawsuit cites a text message Butowsky sent to Wheeler that states the president “wants the article out immediately.”
“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. But don’t feel the pressure,” the text of the message in the lawsuit reads.
The lawsuit argues that Trump pushed for the publication of the story because it established that Seth Rich provided WikiLeaks with the DNC emails, which would shift the blame from Russia.
The filing also details an email Butowsky appears to have sent to the hosts of Fox & Friends. In the email, Butowsky tells hosts Steve Doocy, Ainsley Earhardt and Brian Kilmeade to contact him directly if they have any questions about Zimmerman’s story hours before it was published.
“I’m actually the one who’s been putting this together but as you know I keep my name out of things because I have no credibility,” the May 15 emails states. “One of the big conclusions we need to draw from this is that the Russians did not hack our computer systems and ste[a]l emails and there was no collusion like trump with the Russians.”
According to NPR:
On April 20, a month before the story ran, Butowsky and Wheeler — the investor and the investigator — met at the White House with then-press secretary Sean Spicer to brief him on what they were uncovering.
The first page of the lawsuit quotes a voicemail and text from Butowsky boasting that President Trump himself had reviewed drafts of the Fox News story just before it went to air and was published.
Spicer now tells NPR that he took the meeting as a favor to Butowsky, a reliable Republican voice. Spicer says he was unaware of any contact involving the president. Butowsky now tells NPR that he was kidding about Trump’s involvement.
“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,” said Douglas Wigdor, Wheeler’s lawyer.
“Very shortly after the article was published, Mr. Wheeler called Butowsky and demanded an explanation for the false statements about him in Zimmerman’s article,” the lawsuit states. “Butowsky stated that the quotes were included because that is the way the President wanted the article, referring to President Donald Trump.”
“A few days later, Butowsky wrote to Zimmerman, “I didn’t tell you yet but the federal government is involved at this moment, behind the scenes and believe your story,’” the 33-page complaint adds.
“To this day Fox has not issued any statement admitting that the quotes attributed to Mr. Wheeler were not made by him, nor has Fox apologized to Mr. Wheeler,” the complaint states. “Shockingly, it is clear that simultaneous with such baseless claims of nonpartisanship, Fox was contriving with Butowsky and members of the Trump Administration to publish and disseminate fake news to affect politics in America.”
On May 16, the Fox News Channel broke what it called a bombshell story about an unsolved murder case: the fatal July 2016 shooting of 27-year-old Democratic Party staffer Seth Rich.
Unfounded conspiracy theories involving Rich abounded in the months after his death, in part because WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange cryptically suggested that his death may have been related to the leaks of tens of thousands of emails from Democratic Party officials and their allies at the peak of the presidential campaign.
Fox News’ story, which took flight online and ran in segments across major shows, breathed fresh life into the rumors. Fox reported that the leaks came from inside the party and not from hackers linked to Russia — despite the conclusions of the nation’s most senior intelligence officials. The network suggested that Democrats might have been connected to Rich’s death and that a cover-up had thwarted the official investigation.
The network cited an unnamed FBI official. And the report relied heavily on Wheeler, a former police detective, hired months earlier on behalf of the Riches by Butowsky.