White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders issued a statement Tuesday knocking down reports that President Donald Trump colluded with Fox News to disseminate a conspiracy theory about the 2016 death of DNC staffer Seth Rich.
NPR published the bombshell lawsuit on Tuesday, which was filed against Fox News Channel. The lawsuit claimed that the network, along with wealthy Trump supporter Ed Butowsky, colluded to create a false narrative about the death of Rich.
The lawsuit, filed by Rod Wheeler — a longtime contributor to NPR and a former D.C. homicide detective — claimed that Fox and the Trump supporter concocted the story in order to deflect attention from the Russia investigation.
Fox News Channel denied the charges in a statement.
Wheeler's suit also claimed that Fox News' website published two fake quotes attributed to Wheeler, who was reportedly paid by Butowsky — on behalf of the Rich family — to examine the Rich case. Wheeler now claims that his quotes were not accurate.
Douglas Wigdor, Wheeler's attorney, commented on the lawsuit and said, "Rod Wheeler unfortunately was used as a pawn by Ed Butowsky, Fox News and the Trump administration to try and steer away the attention that was being given about the Russian hacking of the DNC emails."
Jay Wallace, the president of news for Fox, issued the following statement in response to the lawsuit and allegations:
"The accusation that FoxNews.com published Malia Zimmerman’s story to help detract from coverage of the Russia collusion issue is completely erroneous. The retraction of this story is still being investigated internally and we have no evidence that Rod Wheeler was misquoted by Zimmerman. Additionally, Fox News vehemently denies the race discrimination claims in the lawsuit — the dispute between Zimmerman and Rod Wheeler has nothing to do with race."
Sanders on Monday issued a statement directly from the White House that read:
“The president had no knowledge of the story, and it's completely untrue that he or the White House [had] involvement in the story. Beyond that, this is ongoing litigation, and I would refer you to the actual parties involved, which aren’t the White House.”
The lawsuit also alleged that the White House was fully aware of — and somehow supported — the retracted Fox News report that claimed Rich was killed after he had been in contact with WikiLeaks.
D.C. police have made it clear that Rich was shot and killed on July 10, 2016, in what appears to have been a botched robbery attempt a block away from his D.C. home. The case remains unsolved.
After Fox News ran the initial story, criticism from the media and from Rich's parents prompted them to retract the story.