Pro-Trump media outlets that promoted for months the baseless conspiracy that former DNC staffer Seth Rich was murdered for political gain struggled Tuesday with how to report the news that the detective they had believed blew the case open was now suing Fox News for allegedly pressuring him to concoct that story.
Some far-right sites believe that the Fox News contributor turned private detective, Rod Wheeler, was railroaded by the mainstream media. Others made the story footnotes in their reports. Still others turned on Wheeler altogether, claiming they stopped believing him months ago. One prominent pro-Trump voice told The Daily Beast he’s open to the idea that the official police narrative—a bungled attempted robbery—was correct all along.
Wheeler claims in the suit that he was pressured by Fox News reporter Malia Zimmerman, along with millionaire pro-Trump booster Ed Butowski, the Trump administration, and even the president himself, into making claims that would “lift the cloud” of the Russia investigation. The premise of those claims—that Rich’s murder was being investigated by the FBI—was proved to be false, and Fox News retracted the report.
Some far-right Trump media users doubled down on further audio from Wheeler, suggesting Wheeler’s lawsuit is “fake news” and a distraction from audio that was released much later in the day.
Pro-Trump personality Cassandra Fairbanks tweeted a 27-minute video from an anonymous source titled “Wheeler Admits He Went To Fox On His Own, Seth’s Brother Killed Investigation” that allegedly features Wheeler expounding on the case months ago. Fairbanks implored her readers not to “read into anything being reported on Seth Rich right now.”
The video was retweeted by WikiLeaks, which had also pushed the Rich conspiracy. “Unfortunate for fake news that Cassandra is bringing the truth while Seth Rich is still trending,” wrote a user retweeted by Fairbanks.
But not all pro-Trump media personalities were anxious to come along with Fairbanks and WikiLeaks.
Jack Posobiec, a former TheRebel.Media contributor who notably pushed both the Rich and Pizzagate conspiracies, told The Daily Beast that “the whole situation is a mess” and that he doesn’t trust Wheeler.
“I stopped believing Wheeler after he reported the number of Seth Rich emails was exactly identical to the number of released WikiLeaks emails. Too specific and too coincidental,” he said, referring to the emails WikiLeaks released from the DNC hack at that point. Wheeler had initially reported that the FBI had seen Rich’s laptop, which he claimed contained evidence of the email breach. “It reminded me of when I was in the military and sources would try to double-dip on information that had already been reported.”
Wheeler has spun conspiracy theories in the past that have proven unsubstantiated or untrue, including ones on Fox News.
In 2007, he retracted a segment he aired on The O’Reilly Factor in which he claimed “violent lesbian gangs” armed with glocks were “performing sex acts” nationwide, including 150 in the D.C. area alone. He also claimed he had intel on the disappearance of FBI intern Chandra Levy that same year to the National Enquirer, in a case that has gone unsolved.
“He should work in Hollywood,” said Posobiec. “Everyone threw out his reports. Guy was just trying to get famous. Totally uncredible.”
On the day Zimmerman’s article citing Wheeler was published on FoxNews.com, Posobiec had a single-day press credential for the White House press briefing, which he used to ask the president about Seth Rich. (President Trump did not respond.)
Despite every U.S. intelligence agency’s statements claiming Russia hacked the DNC, Posobiec still believes the private DNC correspondences released by WikiLeaks in the run-up to the 2016 election “were likely a leak, not a hack,” but added that “it hasn't been conclusively proven to connect with Seth Rich.”
“He lived in a semi-dangerous neighborhood (cusp of gentrification) that's had lots of muggings so the [Washington, D.C., Metropolitan Police Department] narrative is entirely plausible,” he said.
Posobiec said he hopes the D.C. mayor’s office will release body cam footage as it has “in other cases and could easily do so here, or at least release just to the family.”
Other fringe websites like InfoWars, which blared headlines like “Was Seth Rich Planning Second Data Dump?” as recently as last month, included Wheeler’s lawsuit as a footnote as the last line in an article about a new conspiracy.
“Meanwhile in a related development, a lawsuit filed against Fox News by Rod Wheeler claims that, ‘The Fox News Channel and a wealthy supporter of President Trump worked in concert under the watchful eye of the White House to concoct a story’ about the murder of Seth Rich,” wrote InfoWars’ Paul Joseph Watson.
Both InfoWars and Fox News’ Sean Hannity have tried to tie the DNC hack to a former congressional staffer named Imran Awan arrested last week at Dulles airport for a fraudulent home loan.
Watson’s story was headlined “Roger Stone: Seth Rich Was Partying With Imran Awan on the Night of His Murder.”
Awan worked for several members of Congress, including then-DNC chairwoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, and Rich worked at the Democratic National Committee. Watson’s story cites a tweet by Stone, a friend of President Trump, which claims, “FACT - Wasserman-Schulz ‘IT consultant’ Awan was partying with Seth Rich the night of his murder ! Eat it @TheAtlantic.”
The story provides no further evidence that Awan and Rich were “partying” with each other the night of Rich’s July 2016 murder, nor any evidence that the two knew each other.