As the explosive news about President Trump sharing highly sensitive intelligence with Russian officials dominated other networks, Trump’s favorite morning show devoted multiple segments to salacious coverage of the unsolved July 2016 murder of DNC staffer Seth Rich — the subject of unsubstantiated far-right conspiracy theorizing since last summer.
Fox & Friends’ Tuesday morning coverage centered around “an investigator” who now says Rich “was in contact with WikiLeaks before he was murdered.”
“Not only that, but this investigator says there could be a cover-up. Wow,” host Brian Kilmeade said.
The investigator in question is a former DC homicide investigator turned Fox News contributor named Rod Wheeler, who once apologized for his inaccurate reporting about a “national underground network” of gun-toting lesbians that he claimed was terrorizing the Washington, D.C. area.
Doing my part to Make America Great Again!! pic.twitter.com/5nWxOeZvqw
— rod wheeler (@rodwheeler) April 21, 2017
“I want to find out who caused that man’s death, so we can put them behind bars,” Wheeler said during the Fox & Friends segment. He went on to suggest a cover-up may be obscuring the truth about who killed Rich.
“If somebody in politics — if there’s somebody in government, whether it’s in the mayor’s office or anywhere else in this city that’s involved, you better believe they’re going to be dragged in and questioned,” Wheeler said.
Wheeler told a local Fox station that “a source inside the police department” told him “we were told to stand down on this case and I can’t share any information with you.” But a DC police spokesman has since denied Wheeler’s claim and said the notion detectives have been ordered to stand down is false.
There’s still no evidence Rich’s murder was anything more than a tragic, random act of violence. Police have said they don’t believe there was a connection between Rich’s work for the DNC and his murder, and their investigation focused on connections between Rich’s shooting and other robberies that took place around that time in the Bloomingdale neighborhood of DC.
In a statement sent to BuzzFeed, Rich’s family said they’re not buying the latest Fox reporting.
“As we’ve seen through the past year of unsubstantiated claims, we see no facts, we have seen no evidence, we have been approached with no emails and only learned about this when contacted by the press,” a family spokesman wrote. “We are a family who is committed to facts, not fake evidence that surfaced every few months to fill the void and distract law enforcement and the general public from finding Seth’s murderers.”
Seth Rich family spokesperson: "no evidence," "no emails" suggesting Wikileaks links. Comes day after story claiming family PI found links pic.twitter.com/vmp2oQpcG2
— Alex Campbell (@alexcampbell) May 16, 2017
Wheeler didn’t immediately respond to messages seeking comment, but the statement from the Rich family claims his services were “paid for by a third party.” Both Kilmeade and a local Fox affiliate inaccurately stated that Wheeler’s investigation is being conducted because the family requested it. A Republican lobbyist named Jack Burkman is funding an independent investigation into Rich’s murder. Burkman, through a spokesman, denied that he is paying Wheeler.
NBC, citing the same Rich family spokesman, reports that Ed Butowsky, a Fox News contributor who has also written articles for Breitbart, is covering the cost of Wheeler’s investigation. Butowsky denied any involvement during a conversation with ThinkProgress that took place hours before NBC’s report was published.
The investigative reporter who authored the latest Rich story for Fox News, Malia Zimmerman, recently worked on stories that attempted to validate President Trump’s baseless and discredited assertion that President Obama wiretapped him.
— Malia Zimmerman (@MaliaMZimmerman) March 31, 2017
— Malia Zimmerman (@MaliaMZimmerman) April 5, 2017
Fox News’ latest report on the Rich case ended up dominating the homepages of other right-wing outlets on Tuesday morning.
Meanwhile, if you're reading Trump-right news today…. pic.twitter.com/Apn0Geir6u
— Alex Seitz-Wald (@aseitzwald) May 16, 2017
During another party of Fox & Friends’ Tuesday morning show, hosts discussed a denial from the Russia Foreign Ministry spokeswoman that Trump shared information with Russian officials as though it were the last word on the subject.
Russia’s denial was contradicted a short time later by Trump himself, who contradicted his aides and confirmed key details of the reporting about his Oval Office meeting with Russian officials in a tweetstorm.
InfoWars, meanwhile, claimed that the Washington Post’s scoop about Trump’s unusual decision to share highly sensitive counterterrorism information with Russian officials was published Monday evening to distract from the “Seth Rich bombshell.”