Fox News denounced as "completely erroneous" accusations that it published the article "to help detract from coverage of the Russian Federation collusion issue".
The Trump White House was involved with concocting a Fox News article that linked the death of a Jewish Democratic National Committee aide with WikiLeaks, according to a lawsuit filed by a private investigator who repeatedly discussed the case on Fox News. The story claimed murdered Democratic National Committee staffer named Seth Rich was responsible for releasing the party's emails to Wikileaks in 2016 and that it was not Russian hackers.
A conspiracy theory that Rich had been killed in retaliation for allegedly handing over to Wikileaks emails from his DNC colleagues began to run wild after his death.
Now Wheeler, in his lawsuit, is coming forward with what he claims is the backstory: Fox News reporter Malia Zimmerman, with the "knowledge and support" of wealthy Republican donor Ed Butowsky, fabricated a pair of quotes attributed to Wheeler.
The investigator, Rod Wheeler, further claims in the suit that President Trump was aware of the bogus story and urged Fox to publish it on its website.
The suit states that in April, Butowsky met with Sean Spicer, the president's former press secretary, about the investigation into the death of Rich. The network removed the story a week later saying it "was not initially subjected to the high degree of editorial scrutiny we require for all our reporting".
The story, originally published on May 16, 2017, cited information from an unnamed Federal Bureau of Investigation official and also attributed two quotes to Wheeler, both of which he now denies ever saying.
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White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump had no knowledge of the false story before it was posted and that it was "completely untrue" that the White House had any role in shaping it. Wheeler also alleged that Butwosky said he had been in contact with the White House and President Donald Trump about the article, allegedly telling Wheeler that Trump wanted the article published.
The May 16 article of Zimmerman was eventually withdrawn by Fox after a week of its publication, after which Wheeler corrected the wrong information, subsequently damaging his credibility in the process. So not only does it appear that President Trump may have colluded with Russia to help win the election, but it also appears that he is continuing to do so in order to divert attention from the Trump/Russia story line. "But don't feel the pressure".
Beyond his business, Butowsky has also plied his trade as a go-to analyst for reporters and broadcasters, frequently popping up on television or in news articles.
Wheeler's lawsuit does say that Butowsky and Zimmerman "on behalf of Mr. Wheeler, drafted a response to the Rich family's statements".
In a statement, Spicer said: "Ed is a longtime supporter of the president's agenda. I haven't even seen the computer that Seth Rich used", Wheeler said. He asked for a 10 minute meeting, with no specified topic, to catch up and said he would be bringing along a contributor to Fox News. Butowsky said they ultimately talked more about shirts than Seth Rich.
Zimmerman and Butowsky could not immediately be reached for comment.