Suit: Fox News, White House col­lab­o­rated on phony story

Austin American-Statesman - - MORE OF TODAY’S TOP NEWS - By David Bauder

An in­ves­ti­ga­tor who worked on the Seth Rich case claims Fox News fab­ri­cated quotes implicating the mur­dered Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee staffer in the Wik­iLeaks scan­dal and co­or­di­nated with the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion as it worked on the story.

The in­ves­ti­ga­tor, Rod Wheeler, sued Fox for defama­tion. His law­suit, filed Tues­day in New York, lays out an ex­plo­sive tale of Trump al­lies con­spir­ing to push a false story to take the pres­sure of the Rus­sian col­lu­sion in­ves­ti­ga­tion off the pres­i­dent, and a news or­ga­ni­za­tion will­ing to show the pres­i­dent its story be­fore it was pub­lished.

Fox called the ac­cu­sa­tion that re­porter Malia Zim­mer­man’s story was pub­lished to de­tract from the Rus­sian in­ves­ti­ga­tion “com­pletely er­ro­neous.” Jay Wal­lace, Fox’s news pres­i­dent, said the story is still being in­ves­ti­gated and that Fox has no ev­i­dence that Wheeler was mis­quoted.

Spokes­woman Sarah Huck­abee San­ders at a White House brief­ing Tues­day de­nied the ac­cu­sa­tion.

“The pres­i­dent had no knowl­edge of the story,” she said, adding, “it’s com­pletely un­true” that he or any­one at the White House was in­volved with the story.

Wheeler, a Fox con­trib­u­tor who looked into Rich’s July 2016 mur­der for the fam­ily, was brought into the case by Ed Bu­towsky, a Texas Trump sup­porter who ap­peared fre­quently on Fox, the law­suit said. Bu­towsky was in­tent on es­tab­lish­ing a link be­tween Rich, who was killed in July 2016 in what Wash­ing­ton po­lice be­lieve was a botched rob­bery, and the Wik­iLeaks scan­dal.

Wheeler was quoted in the May 16 story on Fox’s web­site say­ing there had been con­tact be­tween Rich and Wik­iLeaks, whose dump of DNC emails proved a ma­jor detri­ment to Hillary Clinton’s cam­paign. He also said he was quoted falsely say­ing that some­one — pos­si­bly Democrats or Clinton cam­paign of­fi­cials — was block­ing an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Rich’s mur­der.

Two days be­fore the Fox ar­ti­cle was pub­lished, Bu­towsky told Wheeler in a phone con­ver­sa­tion that Trump had read the ar­ti­cle and wanted it pub­lished im­me­di­ately, the law­suit said.

Bu­towsky said later Tues­day that he’s never met Trump.

Wheeler “just wants money,” he said, call­ing the law­suit an ef­fort at “ex­tor­tion.”

Wheeler also claimed that he was told the false com­ments at­trib­uted to him were put in the story at Trump’s urg­ing. He said he and Bu­towsky had met with for­mer White House Press Sec­re­tary Sean Spicer and showed Spicer notes on Wheeler’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion. Spicer asked to be kept in­formed of the probe, the law­suit said.

Fox re­moved the story from its web­site a week after it was pub­lished, say­ing that “it was not ini­tially sub­jected to the high de­gree of ed­i­to­rial scru­tiny we re­quire for all of our re­port­ing.” That forced Fox News’ most high-pro­file host, Sean Han­nity, to back away from ag­gres­sively push­ing the story on the air.

Wheeler, who is black and has been a Fox con­trib­u­tor since 2005, is also su­ing Fox for racial dis­crim­i­na­tion. He said sim­i­lar law en­force­ment ex­perts who are white were given higher pay and more op­por­tu­ni­ties. Wal­lace de­nied the ac­cu­sa­tions.

RICHARD DREW / AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Head­lines scroll above Fox News stu­dios in the News Cor­po­ra­tion build­ing Tues­day in New York. The White House de­nied a law­suit claim that it had worked with Fox News on a story about slain Demo­cratic op­er­a­tive Seth Rich.

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