The FBI is not investigating the unsolved murder of former Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich, Newsweek has learned. The bureau’s lack of involvement refutes a Fox News report that an FBI analysis of Rich’s computer showed he had transferred more than 44,000 DNC emails to a person with ties to WikiLeaks. The report cited an unnamed “federal investigator.”
The circumstances around Rich’s July 2016 murder are mysterious and have led to conspiracy theories that claim he is responsible for passing DNC emails to WikiLeaks. The conspiracy theorists have suggested that the DNC or Hillary Clinton is responsible for Rich’s death. A Fox News report on Tuesday about an alleged connection between Rich and WikiLeaks exploded in conservative media.
On Monday, a local Fox affiliate quoted Rod Wheeler, a private investigator looking into Rich’s death, as saying he knew of evidence connecting Rich to WikiLeaks. The following day, Fox News published an expanded report, claiming that a “federal investigator” had corroborated Wheeler’s comments.
Citing that source, Fox News said that “an FBI forensic report of Rich’s computer—generated within 96 hours after Rich’s murder—showed that he made contact with WikiLeaks through Gavin MacFadyen,” whom The New York Timesdescribed in an obituary as a mentor to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and as director of WikiLeaks. The source said that sometime before May 21, 2016, Rich had transferred 44,053 emails and 17,761 attachments belonging to DNC leaders dating from January 2015 to late May 2016. MacFadyen, the apparent recipient, died of lung cancer last October.
The Fox News report generated headlines among conservative-leaning media outlets, and personalities on the right such as Mike Cernovich and Jack Posobiec tweeted repeatedly about the report. A reporter even asked White House press secretary Sean Spicer for comment on the claims during the White House daily press briefing on Tuesday. Spicer responded, “Generally, I don’t get updates on former DNC staffers. I’m not aware of that.” Some people called for a march in honor of Rich on Washington’s National Mall on Sunday.
But Newsweek has learned that the FBI is not involved in the Rich case, despite the claims that it is. And speaking with Newsweek, Wheeler, the private investigator, seemed to walk back his comments.
In a message to Newsweek on Tuesday, Wheeler said the Fox News report was misleading and that his information was secondhand from that “federal investigator.” “I’ve never, ever seen Seth Rich’s computer, nor have I talked with the federal investigator,” he wrote in a message. “I think it is likely that there is information on the computer that can assist us in the investigation,” he said, “but short of that, I have nothing firsthand.” He added, “I’m just going off of what the federal investigator says.”
But on Wednesday, Wheeler tells Newsweek he is not surprised to hear that the FBI is not involved in the case, and he says the Washington police department had told him the same thing. “I’ve been told that a couple of times, that they’re not involved,” he says. The police referred inquiries about FBI involvement to the FBI.
Rich, 27, was gunned down while walking home from a bar in Washington, D.C., on July 10, 2016. Police found that he still had his credit cards, wallet and phone on him. Police believe the incident was a robbery gone wrong.
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