Trump, Fox News deny al­le­ga­tions they con­spired on false story

The Hamilton Spectator - - CANADA & WORLD - DAVID BAUDER AND JILL COLVIN

NEW YORK — A law­suit filed Tues­day lays out an ex­plo­sive tale of Trump al­lies, the White House and Fox News Chan­nel con­spir­ing to push a false story about Demo­cratic leaks and an un­solved killing in or­der to dis­tract at­ten­tion from the Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion that has been swirling around the pres­i­dent.

The law­suit was filed against Fox by an in­ves­ti­ga­tor who had been look­ing into the killing of Seth Rich, a for­mer Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee staff mem­ber killed in 2016 in what po­lice say was a botched rob­bery. The in­ves­ti­ga­tor al­leges that Fox quoted him as say­ing things he never said and was will­ing to show Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump its story be­fore it was posted on­line.

It’s the sec­ond time in two days that Trump has been ac­cused of be­ing ac­tively in­volved in push­ing a pub­lic nar­ra­tive to lower the heat of the Rus­sia story. The Wash­ing­ton Post re­ported that the pres­i­dent had writ­ten a mis­lead­ing state­ment for his son to give to The New York Times about Don­ald Trump Jr.’s meet­ing last sum­mer with a Rus­sian who promised dirt on Demo­crat Hil­lary Clin­ton’s pres­i­den­tial cam­paign.

Rich’s death has be­come fod­der for con­spir­acy the­o­rists, deeply an­ger­ing the 27-year-old’s fam­ily. In May, the story was thrust into the head­lines again when Fox posted a story on its web­site in which in­ves­ti­ga­tor Rod Wheeler said there had been con­tact be­tween Rich and Wik­iLeaks, the or­ga­ni­za­tion that posted a trove of DNC emails last year. The story was heav­ily pro­moted by Fox News host Sean Han­nity, who has in­for­mally ad­vised the pres­i­dent.

In the law­suit, Wheeler now says that he never made that state­ment. He also con­tends he was told his false com­ments were put in the story be­cause Trump wanted it that way.

Fox says it’s “com­pletely er­ro­neous” to sug­gest it pushed the story to dis­tract from the Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion. Wheeler has made con­tra­dic­tory state­ments re­gard­ing the case and is si­mul­ta­ne­ously fil­ing a racial dis­crim­i­na­tion law­suit against the net­work, rep­re­sented by a lawyer who has other law­suits against Fox. White House press sec­re­tary Sarah Huck­abee San­ders said Trump had no knowl­edge of the false story be­fore it was posted and that it was “com­pletely un­true” that the White House had any role in shap­ing it.

In May, Wheeler told Fox’s lo­cal af­fil­i­ate in Wash­ing­ton that he “ab­so­lutely” had sources at the FBI say­ing that there was in­for­ma­tion that could link Rich to Wik­iLeaks. But the sta­tion noted that Wheeler sub­se­quently said con­tra­dic­tory things to other news or­ga­ni­za­tions, and the sta­tion could not con­tact him again.

Fox News Chan­nel’s prime-time opin­ion hosts, par­tic­u­larly Han­nity, make no se­cret of their ad­mi­ra­tion for Trump. But any charges that the net­work worked with Trump on a false story could harm the rep­u­ta­tions of the net­work’s jour­nal­ists.

Trump has fos­tered an un­usu­ally close re­la­tion­ship with Fox and many of its per­son­al­i­ties, par­tic­u­larly Han­nity.

ALEX BRAN­DON, THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump kisses his daugh­ter Ivanka Trump at the White House Tues­day. The pres­i­dent has been ac­cused of be­ing ac­tively in­volved in push­ing a pub­lic nar­ra­tive to lower the heat of the Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

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