The FBI not only has possession of a laptop computer owned by Democratic National Committee (DNC) staffer Seth Rich—who was murdered in 2016 by unknown assailants—but a report detailing forensic imaging of what’s being described as Rich’s work computer, the bureau revealed in a new filing.
The FBI’s records office located the report while searching for the work computer, Michael Seidel, chief of the office, said in a sworn declaration filed with a federal court in Texas on Dec. 9.
He described the document as “a three (3) page forensic report detailing the actions performed by an outside entity to image the work laptop.”
The report was among four documents that never had been disclosed by the FBI in relation to Rich’s case.
Journalist Sy Hersh said a source told him around 2017 about an FBI report on Rich. According to the source, Rich’s computer showed the DNC staffer had relayed DNC documents to WikiLeaks, a pro-transparency group. Hersh spoke about the source’s claims during a phone call with Ed Butowsky, an investor who later retracted claims about Rich’s brother Aaron being a WikiLeaks source, and discussed the call during a deposition.
Rich, the DNC’s voter expansion data director, was shot in the early morning of July 10, 2016, near his home in Washington. Rich’s murder remains unsolved. Authorities have claimed that the killing was a robbery gone wrong. Julian Assange, the head of WikiLeaks, has suggested that Rich passed DNC files to the group, which released the DNC files in 2016. U.S. authorities have alleged that Russians hacked into the DNC systems, but those allegations were made before the FBI received images from the DNC’s server to determine their validity.
The Metropolitan Police Department is the lead investigating agency into the death. It has declined to say whether the FBI was helping with the probe into Rich’s death.
The new records were found after the records office contacted an unnamed FBI special agent during its search for Rich’s work computer, according to Seidel.
The other records include a letter from a third party that accompanied the work computer and two FBI chain of custody forms.
None of the records were indexed to Rich inside of the bureau’s central records system, and neither the forensic report nor the custody forms mention Rich’s name, according to the FBI. They also weren’t included in an electronic file created for Rich’s case.
The agent claimed that disclosure of the records would harm an FBI investigation into the allegations that Russians had hacked into U.S. systems.
The FBI now wants the court to agree to keep the new records shielded from Brian Huddleston, a Texas resident who filed a lawsuit against the bureau for ignoring a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for records on Rich.
Bureau officials initially claimed in sworn statements that the FBI had searched for records on Rich but didn’t locate any.
In 2020, for the first time, the FBI admitted it had files from a computer belonging to Rich. Some of those files were then released to Huddleston and made public, including documents that appear to suggest that someone could have paid for his death.
The FBI has said it has images from a second computer owned by Rich, which the bureau described as Rich’s personal laptop. A federal judge in September ordered the bureau to hand the images over to Huddleston, finding that the bureau improperly withheld them.
The FBI has repeatedly obtained delays to the production order and still hasn’t produced the images of Rich’s personal laptop and the work laptop, which it says is being held in an FBI evidence room.
The bureau hadn’t explained whether it ever took possession of Rich’s personal laptop. A Department of Justice lawyer said at one point that the bureau was “working on getting the files from Seth Rich’s personal laptop into a format to be reviewed.” Seidel said in the new declaration that the FBI “does not have, nor has it ever had, physical possession of the actual personal laptop.”
The work laptop was conveyed to the FBI from a nongovernmental third party, according to the FBI.
Under FOIA, Seidel asserted that the computer “is not an actual record” but is “physical object/evidence” that isn’t subject to the law.
The law states that every U.S. agency shall make available “agency records.” But factors used to determine whether a record meets the definition show that the computer doesn’t, Seidel said. One factor is the extent to which personnel at the agency have read or relied upon the document, and the FBI has “found no indication” that the FBI relied on the content of the work computer, he added.
Lawyers have said that U.S. District Judge Amos Mazzant, the Obama appointee who’s overseeing the case, should order that the computer and its associated records, including the newly discovered forensic report, be shielded from Huddleston.
Ty Clevenger, the lawyer representing Huddleston, told The Epoch Times that he didn’t see a distinction between the physical work computer and the images from both computers. He said he’d urge the judge to order the release of information from both computers.
Correction: A previous version of this article inaccurately stated which claims Butowsky retracted. He retracted claims that Aaron Rich was involved in the alleged transfer of DNC documents to WikiLeaks. The Epoch Times regrets the error.
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