By Peter Hermann,
The family of slain Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich refuted Fox News reports that he had leaked work e-mails to WikiLeaks before he was fatally shot last year in the District.
The reports, which gained traction on social media, said an FBI forensics examination showed Rich transferred 44,053 DNC e-mails and 17,761 attachments to a now-deceased WikiLeaks director.
Rich’s parents, Joel and Mary Ann, said Tuesday through a spokesman that they do not believe their son gave any information to WikiLeaks. Rich was shot on July 10, 2016 near his home in Northwest Washington’s Bloomingdale neighborhood.
D.C. police have repeatedly said they believe Rich was killed in a random robbery attempt, but several conspiracy theories have emerged about his death. No arrests have been made.
“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,” Rich’s family said in a statement. “We are a family who is committed to facts, not fake evidence that surfaces every few months to fill the void and distract law enforcement and the general public from finding Seth’s murderers.”
Several federal and local law enforcement authorities also said Tuesday they were not aware that Rich sent any DNC information to WikiLeaks.
“There is nothing that we can find that any of this is accurate,” said Dustin Sternbeck, the chief spokesman for D.C police, which is leading the investigation into Rich’s death.
FBI spokespeople declined to comment, saying the agency is not involved in the case, and referred questions to D.C. police.
Law enforcement officials have said for months that Rich’s computer and e-mail activity have been examined and suggest nothing that would connect him to WikiLeaks, which, twelve days after Rich’s death, published 20,000 emails that embarrassed Hillary Clinton and the DNC and forced the ouster of its chairwoman. “We’ve seen nothing that would change that,’’ said one law enforcement official.
The DNC said in a statement: “We know of no evidence that supports these allegations. We are continuing to cooperate with investigators and have no further comment.”
The allegations were reported by Fox News, including WTTG-TV, the District’s Fox News affiliate. The reports cited a private investigator, Rod Wheeler, who Fox said was hired by the family and had previously worked for D.C. police. He also has been an on-air contributor to the Fox-5 news station. Fox also cited an unnamed federal official who said Rich had transferred thousands of emails to a WikiLeaks director. Fox’s source asserts those emails were transferred between January 2015 and May 2016.
Rich’s killing has been the subject of intrigue, with speculation centered on Russia, the DNC and the bitter presidential campaign. WikiLeaks has added $20,000 to a reward to find Rich’s killer but has not said whether he had been working with or in contact with the group. Rich worked on a computer program to help people get more easily to the polls.
The Rich family spokesman, Brad Bauman, also said Wheeler had not been hired by the family but by a “third-party” who Bauman says has a political agenda. He declined to identify the person citing legal concerns. He said Wheeler offered his services to the family “claiming he wanted to help.” Bauman said Wheeler and the family had an agreement that Wheeler not talk to the media.
“This is devastating to the family,” Bauman said. “They have confidence in the police investigation and believe that every single one of these fake news stories actually harms the ability of the police department to get to the bottom of what actually happened.”
Wheeler said he worked for D.C. police from 1989 to 1998 and was at one time a detective in the homicide unit. He said in an interview that he was told by a D.C. police detective involved in the investigation that there is evidence that DNC files were possibly transferred from Rich’s computer to a WikiLeaks representative. He declined to identify his source, and he did not return phone calls seeking comment after Rich’s family had publicly criticized him.
D.C. police said Wheeler worked as an officer from 1990 to 1995 and they were checking records to determine if he served in homicide. Sternbeck, the police spokesman, said Wheeler was fired from the agency.
Ann E. Marimow, Devlin Barrett and Keith L. Alexander contributed to this report.