To obscure Russia's role in the 2016 election, the Trump administration collaborated with Fox News to fabricate news about the murder of Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich, according to a defamation and discrimination lawsuit filed on Tuesday.
The lawsuit, filed in the Southern District of New York on behalf of private investigator and Fox News contributor Rod Wheeler, asserts that Fox News’s Malia Zimmerman, with the knowledge and support of Trump supporter Ed Butowsky, invented quotations attributed to Wheeler in an article that linked Rich and Wikileaks.
"Incredibly, according to Butowsky, the President reviewed an article written by a Fox News journalist prior to its publication and sought to get the article published 'immediately,'" the complaint states.
The motivation for doing so, the complaint says, was 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."
Seth Rich was working for the DNC when he was murdered in Washington, DC, in July 2016. Police have suggested Rich's death was the result of a robbery gone wrong.
The case has been seized upon by conspiracy fabulists, resulting in unsupported claims that Rich – rather than the perp fingered by the US intelligence community, Russia's military intelligence agency, the GRU – leaked the DNC emails that contributed to presidential candidate Hillary Clinton's election loss last year.
Claims about Rich have since been discredited by organizations such as FactCheck.org; Fox News retracted the story in question two months ago.
"According to the complaint, at the same time that 21st Century Fox's General Counsel, Gerson Zweifach, was meeting with the UK regulators in an attempt to convince them that Fox had in place procedures to ensure compliance with broadcasting standards to purchase Sky, 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," said Douglas Wigdor, a partner at Wigdor, LLP, who is representing Wheeler, in an emailed statement.
In a statement provided to CNN, Jay Wallace, Fox News' president of news, said the lawsuit's accusations are false and said the company's internal investigation into the retracted story has turned up no evidence Zimmerman fabricated quotes.
Vanity Fair correspondent and NBC News contributor Gabriel Sherman on Tuesday said in a Twitter post, "Ed Butowsky tells me federal lawsuit is 'bullshit' and denies sharing Fox article with [the White House]. 'I've never spoken to Trump in my life,' he says."
Butowsky suspended his Twitter account this morning because, according to New York Magazine correspondent Olivia Nuzzi, "people are so mean."
In a press briefing on Tuesday, according to news reports, Whitehouse press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders insisted President Trump "had no knowledge of the story and it's completely untrue that he and the White House were involved."
Toward the end of that briefing, Sanders reportedly said she's not sure whether President Trump believes Seth Rich was involved in the DNC hacking. ®