WASHINGTON - EDITOR'S NOTE (5/17/17): We want to update you on a story you first saw on FOX 5 DC. We want to make an important clarification on claims that were made by Rod Wheeler, the private investigator hired by Seth Rich's family, whose services are being paid for by a third party.
What he told FOX 5 DC on camera Monday regarding Seth Rich's murder investigation is in clear contrast to what he has said over the last 48 hours. Rod Wheeler has since backtracked.
In an interview Monday, Wheeler told FOX 5 DC he had sources at the FBI confirming there was evidence of communication between Seth Rich and WikiLeaks. This is the verbatim of that exchange:
FOX 5 DC: “You have sources at the FBI saying that there is information...”
WHEELER: "For sure..."
FOX 5 DC: “...that could link Seth Rich to WikiLeaks?"
WHEELER: "Absolutely. Yeah. That's confirmed."
In the past 48 hours, Rod Wheeler has told other media outlets he did not get his information from FBI sources, contradicting what he told us on Monday.
Since Rod Wheeler backtracked Tuesday, FOX 5 DC attempted incessantly to communicate with him, but he didn't return calls or emails.
On Wednesday, just before our newscast, Wheeler responded to our requests via a telephone conversation, where he now backtracks his position and Wheeler characterizes his on-the-record and on-camera statements as "miscommunication."
When asked if Wheeler is still working for Seth Rich's family, Wheeler told FOX 5 DC the contract still stands-- ties have not been severed.
We reached out once again to the Rich family, and through a spokesperson the Rich family tells FOX 5 DC, "The family has relayed their deep disappointment with Rod Wheeler's conduct over the last 48 hours, and is exploring legal avenues to the family."
Seth Rich, a Democratic National Committee staffer, was murdered in DC on July 10, 2016. He was shot and killed as he walked home in the Bloomingdale neighborhood, in what DC police have suggested was a botched robbery, but online conspiracy theories have tied the murder to Rich's work at the DNC.
Rich worked as a data analyst for the Democratic National Committee. He was walking home from a bar, talking to his girlfriend on the phone, when he was shot. As the investigation progressed, police revealed nothing had been taken from Rich during the shooting, and apparently he fought with his assailants.
In a report published Tuesday, Fox News reports Rich sent over 44,000 internal DNC emails to WikiLeaks before he died. The report cites information from a federal investigator who requested to remain anonymous, and Rod Wheeler, a private investigator hired by the Rich family and paid by a third party, who is also a paid Fox News contributor.
In an email to FOX 5 DC's Marina Marraco Tuesday night, Rich family spokesperson Brad Bauman said he could confirm that Fox News contributor Ed Butowsky, a Dallas financial advisor. The statement from Bauman reads as follows: "Ed has spent the past six months cultivating a relationship with the Rich family, grooming them and pushing them on the idea of an independent investigation. He personally introduced them to the investigator and said he would pay for his services. Any claims by him that he wasn't personally and intimately involved in this is an outright lie."
In an interview Monday night, Wheeler told FOX 5 DC there may be tangible evidence on Seth Rich's laptop that confirms he was communicating with WikiLeaks prior to his death. Wheeler, a former D.C. police homicide detective, is running a parallel investigation into Rich’s murder. In a statement issued by the Rich family spokesperson Tuesday regarding the new report, the family said "the private investigator who spoke to press was offered to the Rich family and paid for by a third party, and contractually was barred from speaking to press or anyone outside of law enforcement or the family unless explicitly authorized by the family."
Wheeler told FOX 5 DC reporter Marina Marraco on Monday night he believes there is a cover up and the police department has been told to back down from the investigation.
"The police department nor the FBI have been forthcoming,” Wheeler said Monday night. “They haven't been cooperating at all. I believe that the answer to solving his death lies on that computer, which I believe is either at the police department or either at the FBI. I have been told both.”
When asked if his sources have told him there is information that links Rich to WikiLeaks, Wheeler said, “Absolutely. Yeah. That's confirmed."
"I have a source inside the police department that has looked at me straight in the eye and said, ‘Rod, we were told to stand down on this case and I can’t share any information with you,’" Wheeler told FOX 5 DC on Monday night. "Now, that is highly unusual for a murder investigation, especially from a police department. Again, I don’t think it comes from the chief’s office, but I do believe there is a correlation between the mayor's office and the DNC and that is the information that will come out [Tuesday]."
Wheeler said he would provide a full report on the information he has about the case after details were released in a report by Fox News, which came out Tuesday.
Reaction to Wheeler's story
Upon first learning of Wheeler's claim, FOX 5 DC immediately reached out to the Rich family. Reporter Marina Marraco spoke with Aaron Rich, Seth Rich's brother, both by phone and by email. Both times, he asked that FOX 5 DC not include the family in any reports.
After interviewing Wheeler, FOX 5 DC reached out to Metropolitan Police Department Chief Peter Newsham and the department's communications team. As of 5 pm Tuesday, we are still waiting for a direct response to that inquiry.
MPD did tell FOX 5 Tuesday that Wheeler’s assertion that a source inside the department told him that detectives were instructed to stand down regarding the Rich case was "absolutely false."
FOX 5 DC asked Mayor Muriel Bowser Tuesday about Wheeler's claim of a stand-down order to DC police.
"I don't think I particularly talked to the DNC," Bowser said. "They came in to talk to us with Seth's family and our discussion was with Seth's family. So this had nothing to do with this stand-down order. Certainly not. That's preposterous."
A spokesperson for the FBI's Washington field office denied they were ever involved in the investigation of Rich's murder, and referred all future questions to the Metropolitan Police Department.
FOX 5 DC reporter Ronica Cleary asked White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer for comment on the reported developments in the Rich case at an off-camera briefing Tuesday. Spicer declined to comment, saying it would be "highly inappropriate" to do so amid the ongoing investigation.
Fox News report: Rich sent 44,000 internal DNC emails to WikiLeaks before his death
According to a report published Tuesday by Fox News, an FBI forensic report of Rich's computer generated within 96 hours after his murder showed he made contact with WikiLeaks through now-deceased American investigative reporter, documentary filmmaker and director of WikiLeaks Gavin MacFadyen who was living in London at the time, a federal source told Fox News. MacFadyen died of lung cancer on October 22 at the age of 76.
“I have seen and read the emails between Seth Rich and WikiLeaks,” the federal investigator told Fox News, confirming the MacFadyen connection. He said the emails are in possession of the FBI, while the stalled case is in the hands of the Metropolitan Police Department.
Fox News reports the federal investigator, who requested anonymity, said 44,053 emails and 17,761 attachments between Democratic National Committee leaders, spanning from January 2015 through late May 2016, were transferred from Rich to MacFadyen before May 21.
On July 22, just 12 days after Rich was killed, WikiLeaks published internal DNC emails that appeared to show top party officials conspired to stop Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont from becoming the party’s presidential nominee. That controversy resulted in Debbie Wasserman Schultz resigning as DNC chairperson.
WikiLeaks leader Julian Assange has stopped short of identifying Rich as the source of the emails, but has taken a keen interest in the case, and has not denied working with Rich.
Rich family responds, blasts detectives over report
Rich's family blasted Wheeler's claims and the information included in the Fox News report. In a statement released by family spokesperson Brad Mauman on Tuesday, Rich's family said assertions that Rich sent emails to WikiLeaks were "unsubstantiated." Bauman said even if purported emails were to surface, it would not necessarily mean Rich had helped WikiLeaks.
Here is the full text of the statement from Rich's family:
"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. Even if tomorrow, an email was found, it is not a high enough bar of evidence to prove any interactions as emails can be altered and 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. The services of the private investigator who spoke to press was offered to the Rich family and paid for by a third party, and contractually was barred from speaking to press or anyone outside of law enforcement or the family unless explicitly authorized by the family."
Late Tuesday evening, Bauman confirmed by email to FOX 5's Marina Marraco reports that Rich's family claims Ed Butowsky, a Fox News contributor, was the third party who paid for the investigation.
"Ed has spent the past six months cultivating a relationship with the Rich family, grooming them and pushing them on the idea of an independent investigation. He personally introduced them to the investigator and said he would pay for his services. Any claims by him that he wasn't personally and intimately involved in this is an outright lie," Bauman said.
Rewards offered for information total $150,000
DC police issued a statement on the Rich case, saying it's still an active investigation and detectives are working with Rich's family.
"If there are any individuals who feel they have information, we urge them to call us at (202) 727-9099 or text us at 50411. The department is offering a reward of up to $25,000 for information on this case that leads to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible."
In addition to the $25,000 reward offered by DC police, WikiLeaks offered a $20,000 reward last August, and Republican lobbyist Jack Burkman has offered a separate reward of $105,000 in the case. In March, Burkman, who has appeared alongside the Rich family at news conferences related to the case, said he had evidence from a former U.S. intelligence officer that Rich's murder was linked to Russian operatives.
PREVIOUS COVERAGE ON THE SETH RICH MURDER INVESTIGATION: