The investigator, Rod Wheeler, filed a 33-page defamation lawsuit against the news network on Tuesday. The lawsuit, which reads like a plot summary of a middling political thriller, weaves a tangled web of conspiracies as the Fox News network colludes with the White House to turn Rich's death to political advantage.
Wheeler had been hired by Fox News Commentator Ed Butowsky to investigate the murder of Seth Rich in July 2016. Washington police claimed that Rich's death was likely the result of a botched robbery, but Butowsky believed the story ran deeper.
Fox News published a "bombshell" story in May 2017 about the death of Rich, expounding on a claim from WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange that the DNC staffer's death was connected to the 2016 leak of thousands of Democratic Party emails in 2016. The story argued that Rich was the original leaker of the DNC files, and he may have been murdered as a result.
The story cited two sources: Wheeler and an unnamed FBI official. However, it came under heavy scrutiny after airing, including from Wheeler himself, who immediately claimed that Fox had put words into his mouth.
The lawsuit alleges that two quotes used by Fox News' Malia Zimmerman were fabricated and then attributed to Wheeler: "My investigation up to this point shows there was some degree of email exchange between Seth Rich and Wikileaks," and "My investigation shows someone within the DC government, Democratic National Committee or Clinton team is blocking the murder investigation from going forward. That is unfortunate. Seth Rich's murder is unsolved as a result of that."
The lawsuit further alleges that these quotations were made up to push the narrative "that Seth Rich provided WikiLeaks with the DNC emails 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."
And if that wasn't enough, it wasn't only Fox News who participated in this narrative. The lawsuit alleges that the president of the United States himself pushed for the fake statements to be added to the article. "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.'"
"Shockingly, it is clear that simultaneous with such baseless claims of nonpartisanship, Fox was contriving with Butowsky and members of the Trump administration to publish and disseminate fake news to affect politics in America."
Fox News retracted their story about Rich's murder approximately one week after publishing it. They claimed that the story did not adhere to the network's journalistic standards. Fox News poster boy Sean Hannity, an early champion of the story, said he would stop talking about it out of respect for Rich's family.
Fox News President of News Jay Wallace replied to the lawsuit by telling NPR that there was no "concrete evidence" of Wheeler being misquoted. "The retraction of this story is still being investigated internally, and we have no evidence that Rod Wheeler was misquoted by Zimmerman."
The plot thickened as White House officials commented on the accusations. Former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer says that he was briefed on the Fox News story during an April meeting with Butowsky and Wheeler. However, he expressed ignorance as to whether or not Trump himself was aware of the case.
Meanwhile, Spicer's replacement as press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, said that the president had absolutely no knowledge of the Fox News story.