News & Politics

How the Murder of a D.N.C. Staff Member Fueled Conspiracy Theories


An image of Seth Rich, a Democratic National Committee employee, from a YouTube video. Credit Washington Post, via YouTube
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The murder last July of an employee of the Democratic National Committee received renewed attention from news media outlets on the right this week when a private investigator and longtime Fox News contributor said that there was “tangible evidence” that the employee, Seth Rich, had contacted WikiLeaks before his death.

The investigator has since given shifting and contradictory accounts to other news organizations, and Mr. Rich’s family has grown increasingly distressed, calling the politicization of his death “painful” and “debilitating” and asking for retractions and apologies from the Fox outlets that promoted the investigator’s story.

What do we know about Mr. Rich’s murder?

Seth Conrad Rich, 27, worked for the committee for a little more than a year. He was shot in the back in July near his home in the Bloomingdale neighborhood of Washington, D.C.

Mr. Rich’s murder is still under investigation by Washington’s Metropolitan Police Department. The police in Washington responded to the sound of gunshots early in the morning of July 10 and found Mr. Rich, who was still conscious, at an intersection in Northwest Washington near his house. Mr. Rich was taken to a hospital, where he died a little more than an hour later.

A spokesman for Mr. Rich’s family, Brad Bauman, said Mr. Rich had been on a long walk after returning from a bar and was talking with his girlfriend on the phone at the time of his death.

He said the family believes that Mr. Rich may have been murdered during a failed robbery attempt; his watch strap was damaged, but his wallet and other possessions were still on him.

What are the allegations being made about Mr. Rich’s murder?

In an August interview, Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, discussed Mr. Rich’s death, and hinted that he had shared material with WikiLeaks.

“Whistle-blowers go to significant efforts to get us material and often very significant risks,” Mr. Assange said in the interview, with a Dutch television station. “There’s a 27-year-old who works for the D.N.C., who was shot in the back, murdered, just two weeks ago, for unknown reasons as he was walking down the street in Washington.”

Pressed by the host to be more direct, Mr. Assange said, “I’m suggesting that our sources take risks and they become concerned to see things occurring like that.” He would not answer when asked directly whether Mr. Rich was a source, but he said that WikiLeaks was investigating what he called a “concerning situation.” Later, WikiLeaks offered a $20,000 reward for information about Mr. Rich’s murder.

In January, American intelligence officials released a report showing their belief that a Russian military intelligence unit had given WikiLeaks access to stolen material from the Democratic National Committee in an effort to influence the election, something that Mr. Assange has consistently denied.

Mr. Assange’s comments about Mr. Rich have allowed some to spin an alternative narrative, in which Mr. Rich was the source of the leaked emails. No credible evidence has emerged, however, that Mr. Rich was in contact with WikiLeaks.

What happened this week?

On Monday, Rod Wheeler, a Washington private investigator who was hired by the Rich family to look into the death of their son, suggested in an interview with a Fox station in Washington that there was “tangible evidence” that Mr. Rich had communicated with WikiLeaks before his death.

On Tuesday afternoon, CNN reported that Mr. Wheeler had said in an interview he had “no evidence” that Mr. Rich had contacted WikiLeaks and that he had “only learned about the possible existence of such evidence” through a reporter at Fox News.

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