David Folkenflik over on NPR has a pretty huge story this morning detailing a lawsuit filed against Fox News by a Fox News commentator and private investigator, Rod Wheeler.
It’s an exhaustive and lengthy account of the untold story behind the Seth Rich conspiracy, and alleges that the White House encouraged the story behind the scenes as a way to suggest that Russia had not hacked into the DNC emails and shift blame to a low-level DNC operative who was murdered in a botched robbery.
The gist of it is this: A wealthy Dallas investor and unpaid Fox advisor, Ed Butowsky, basically made this story up using fabricated quotes from Rod Wheeler, a private investigator that Butowsky paid to look into the murder of Seth Rich purportedly on behalf of the Rich family (the Rich family was initially thankful, but they had no idea they were being used as political pawns). Turns out, Butowsky had an ulterior motive, which was essentially to try and discredit the intelligence community’s assessment that Russia had hacked into the DNC.
In fact, before the story ran, Butowsky met with Sean Spicer to brief him on the story. According to texts and voicemails, Butowsky also said that Donald Trump had reviewed drafts of the story and was pushing Butokowsky to get it published on Fox News around the time that the White House was feeling a lot of heat for having fired James Comey.
On May 14, about 36 hours before Fox News’ story appeared, Butowsky left a voicemail for Wheeler, saying, “We have the full, uh, attention of the White House on this. And tomorrow, let’s close this deal, whatever we’ve got to do.”
Butowsky also texted Wheeler: “Not to add any more pressure but the president just read the article. He wants the article out immediately. It’s now all up to you.”
Wow: new federal lawsuit alleges Trump White House reviewed Fox News article about murdered DNC staffer Seth Rich prior to publication.— Gabriel Sherman (@gabrielsherman) August 1, 2017
Fox News apparently played along with this whole scheme, although some within Fox News were critical of the Seth Rich conspiracy, which was later debunked (and Fox News retracted the story). The role of Fox News, according to the lawsuit, was unethical as hell:
As the night before the story is aired progresses, Butowsky is awake, online, and anticipating what is to unfold in a few short hours.
Butowsky sends an email to Fox News producers and hosts coaching them on how to frame the Rich story, according to the lawsuit. Recipients included Fox & Friends hosts, Steve Doocy, Ainsley Earhardt and Brian Kilmeade, among others.
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“I’m actually the one who’s been putting this together but as you know, I keep my name out of things because I have no credibility,” Butowsky wrote, as reflected in the Wheeler suit. “One of the big conclusions we need to draw from this is that the Russians did not hack our computer systems and ste[a]l emails and there was no collusion” between “Trump and the Russians.”
The night before the story ran and the day of the story itself, Butowsky coached Wheeler on what to say on the air: “[T]he narrative in the interviews you might use is that you and [Fox News reporter Malia Zimmerman’s] work prove that the Russians didn’t hack into the DNC and steal the emails and impact our elections.” In another text; “If you can, try to highlight this puts the Russian hacking story to rest.”
Sean Spicer concedes he did meet with Butowksy, but says he only did so as a favor because Butowksy was a long-time supporter and donor. Butowksy now also claims that he was only “joking” about the Donald Trump pushing the story.
Spicer says he’s not aware of any contact, direct or not, between Butowsky and Trump. And Butowsky now tells NPR he has never shared drafts of the story with President Trump or his aides — that he was joking with a friend.
However, there are certainly enough details in the story to suggest that Fox News, President Trump, and Sean Spicer all helped to push a story from a long-time Trump supporter and his private investigator in an effort to distract the American public from the Russian investigation. If true, it is damning as hell.
And isn’t it funny how the truth always seems to come out?