Trump, Fox News deny allegations they conspired on false story
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.
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.