Seth Rich Conspiracy Pushed By Russian Intelligence, Trump Administration, New Investigation Reveals
A new report reveals the extent of Russian involvement in spreading the conspiracy theory that slain DNC staffer Seth Rich was assassinated on the order of Hillary Clinton because he was the source of stolen DNC emails sent to Wikileaks.
The conspiracy theory — which started online and eventually spread to Fox News, including Fox & Friends and Sean Hannity’s primetime show — has been repeatedly debunked by U.S. authorities, including Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who found that Russian hackers were the source of the emails given to Wikileaks.
In an attempt to obscure the source of the leaked emails, Wikileaks, Russian intelligence, pro-Trump media and even one member of the president’s administration pushed the conspiracy theory that 27-year-old Rich was murdered for stealing the information. (Police believe he was killed in a botched robbery). A new report from Yahoo News correspondent Michael Isikoff reveals the extent to which Russian intelligence sought to plant the conspiracy theory, and how successful they were in spreading it.
Russia’s foreign intelligence service, known as the SVR, first circulated a phony “bulletin” — disguised to read as a real intelligence report —about the alleged murder of the former DNC staffer on July 13, 2016, according to the U.S. federal prosecutor who was in charge of the Rich case.
Conspiracy theories about Bill and Hillary Clinton having people murdered have long been popular, as the Washington Post’s Philip Bump pointed out in response to the Yahoo report, so Russia’s efforts had fertile ground to spread.
The Russians also had help from members of Trump’s administration, according to Isikoff, who reviewed text messages sent between then-White House chief strategist Steve Bannon and a CBS 60 Minutes producer.
“Huge story … he was a Bernie guy … it was a contract kill, obviously,” Bannon texted the producer on March 17, 2017.
The Russians also had help from Fox News, which infamously published a now-retracted report claiming the FBI had discovered evidence on Rich’s computer that he was in contact with Wikileaks before he was killed. The dubious story quickly fell apart, but it was still covered extensively on the network, and was a top story on Hannity’s show.
Deborah Sines, a retired assistant U.S. attorney who was in charge of the Rich, told Yahoo News that the Fox story was a “complete fabrication.”
She said there was “no connection between Seth and WikiLeaks. And there was no evidence on his work computer of him downloading and disseminating things from the DNC.”
More than a week after it was published, Fox News retracted the story when a key source stepped back from his statement confirming the reporting. Fox News launched an internal investigation into how the story was published, but has never publicly disclosed its findings. Fox has declined to comment on the investigation, pointing to an ongoing lawsuit against the network by the Rich family.
According to Isikoff, “a source familiar with the network’s investigation” said, “Fox executives grew frustrated they were unable to determine the identity of the other, and more important, source for the story: an anonymous ‘federal investigator’ whose agency was never revealed.”
“The Fox editors came to have doubts that the person was in fact who he claimed to be or whether the person actually existed,” he reported.
Read the investigation here, and watch Isikoff discuss his reporting on MSNBC’s Morning Joe above.
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