The family of the Democratic National Committee staffer who was gunned down on July 10 on a Washington, D.C., blasted reports that he was a source of emails leaked to WikiLeaks.
Rod Wheeler, a retired Washington homicide detective and Fox News contributor investigating the case on behalf of the Rich family, made the WikiLeaks claim, which was corroborated by a federal investigator who spoke to Fox News.
“My investigation up to this point shows there was some degree of email exchange between Seth Rich and WikiLeaks.”
Wheeler made his comments on the possible Rich-Wikileaks connection in a story first reported Monday night by Fox 5 DC.
In an appearance on Fox News' "Hannity" Tuesday night, Wheeler said a "federal investigator that was involved on the inside of the case" saw Rich's computer and the case file.
Wheeler told host Sean Hannity the investigator "came across [as] very credible. When you look at that, with the totality of everything else that I found in this case, it’s very consistent for a person with my experience to begin to think, 'Well, perhaps there were some email communication between Seth and Wikileaks.'"
But a spokesman for Rich's family on Tuesday said Wheeler was not authorized to speak for the family and called assertions Seth Rich sent emails to WikiLeaks "unsubstantiated." Brad Bauman said even if purported emails were to surface, it would not necessarily mean Rich had helped WikiLeaks.
"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," Bauman said. "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."
Although Bauman said Wheeler was paid by a third party, the family is named as clients of Wheeler's Capitol Investigations on a contract signed by Rich's father, Joel Rich.
The family has been sensitive to speculation that Rich could have leaked emails damaging to the DNC since he was murdered during the height of the presidential campaign in a case that remains unsolved. Wheeler and the federal investigator insist that there is evidence to back their claims.
An FBI forensic report of Rich's computer -- generated within 96 hours after Rich's murder -- showed he made contact with WikiLeaks through Gavin MacFadyen, a now-deceased American investigative reporter, documentary filmmaker, and director of WikiLeaks who was living in London at the time, the federal source told Fox News.
“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 Washington Police Department.
The revelation is consistent with the findings of Wheeler, whose private investigation firm was hired by a third party on behalf of Rich’s family to probe the case.
“My investigation up to this point shows there was some degree of email exchange between Seth Rich and WikiLeaks,” Wheeler said. “I do believe that the answers to who murdered Seth Rich sits on his computer on a shelf at the DC police or FBI headquarters.”
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.
“WikiLeaks has decided to issue a US$20k reward for information leading to conviction for the murder of DNC staffer Seth Rich,” the organization announced.
Assange has not returned a series of recent emails from Fox News about Rich. MacFadyen, who was considered a mentor by Assange, died of lung cancer on Oct. 22 at age 76.
Washington’s Metropolitan Police Department has no suspects and no substantial leads as to who the killer or killers may be, sources close to the investigation said. Metropolitan Police, including the police chief, have refused to discuss the case, despite requests from Fox News dating back 10 months.
The department released a statement on the case saying it remains an active investigation and that 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," read the statement. "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."
The FBI’s national office declined to comment, but sources said the bureau provided cyber expertise to examine Rich’s computer.
D.C. police have announced a $25,000 reward for information leading to the conviction of Rich’s killer. Republican lobbyist Jack Burkman has offered a separate $130,000 reward.
Malia Zimmerman is an award-winning investigative reporter focusing on crime, homeland security, illegal immigration crime, terrorism and political corruption. Follow her on twitter at @MaliaMZimmerman