“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,” spokesperson Brad Bauman told BuzzFeed News in an emailed statement.
Fox 5 in Washington DC first reported last night that the “family’s private investigator” had found “tangible evidence” on Rich’s laptop showing he was in touch with Wikileaks before he died last summer. Then this morning, Fox News reported that Rich “had leaked thousands of internal emails to WikiLeaks,” citing a “federal investigator.”
Yet Rich’s family said in its statement that the private investigator was “paid for by a third party” and under his contract had been “barred from speaking to press” without explicit authorization from the family.
Rich, 27, was shot and killed early one morning in Washington in July of last year. He had been working on a DNC project trying to make it easier for people to find where to vote on election day.
Wikileaks published thousands of hacked DNC emails soon after Rich’s death, and conspiracy theories began to swirl after the organization offered a $20,000 reward for help solving his case. Wikileaks founder Julian Assange then raised further eyebrows when he spoke of Rich’s death, saying, “Our whistleblowers go to significant efforts to get us material.”
Wikileaks backed off the claim, saying his statement “should not be taken to imply that Seth Rich was a source for WikiLeaks,” nor that his death was connected to the leaked emails.
Police said in response that they believe there is no connection between his death and “his employment at the DNC.” Since that time, Rich’s family have also said publicly that they believe his death wasn’t connected.
But the story picked up again this week with the two reports by Fox outlets. Both stories quoted Rod Wheeler, a former homicide detective at Washington’s Metropolitan Police, saying he had learned that there were emails between Rich and Wikileaks before his death.
Both reports said that Rich’s family had hired Wheeler as a private investigator — which Rich’s family responded to in its statement by noting he had been paid by a third party, and had not been authorized to speak with the press.
The Fox 5 story from last night quoted Wheeler saying that a local police officer in Washington had “looked me straight in the eye” and told him they had been ordered “stand down” on Rich’s case. Fox added an update this morning that local police had denied that claim.
This morning’s Fox News story added a further source, an unnamed “federal investigator” who said, “I have seen and read the emails between Seth Rich and WikiLeaks.” The investigator said that the FBI is in possession of the emails.
The Rich family strongly rebuked these reports as further evidence of conspiracy theory thinking. “We’ve seen that those interested in pushing conspiracies will stop at nothing to do so.”
“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.”
Rich’s murder remains unsolved.
This is a developing story. Check back for updates and follow BuzzFeed News on Twitter.