The family of slain Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich rejected Fox News reports that he had leaked work emails to WikiLeaks before he was fatally shot last year near his home in the District.
The reports, which gained traction on social media, said that an FBI forensics examination showed that Rich transferred 44,053 DNC emails and 17,761 attachments to a now-deceased WikiLeaks director.
Rich’s parents, Joel and Mary Ann Rich, said Tuesday through a spokesman that they do not think their son gave any information to WikiLeaks. Rich was shot July 10, 2016, in Northwest Washington’s Bloomingdale neighborhood. D.C. police have repeatedly said that they think Rich was killed in a random robbery attempt, but several conspiracy theories have emerged about his death. No arrests have been made.
“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,” Rich’s family said in a statement. “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.”
Several federal and local law enforcement authorities also said Tuesday that they were not aware that Rich sent any DNC information to WikiLeaks.
“There is nothing that we can find that any of this is accurate,” said Dustin Sternbeck, the chief spokesman for D.C. police, which is leading the investigation into Rich’s death. He would not be more specific.
FBI spokesmen declined to comment, saying that the agency is not involved in the case, and referred questions to D.C. police.
Law enforcement officials have said that Rich’s computer and email activity have been examined and suggest nothing that would connect him to WikiLeaks — which, 12 days after Rich’s death, published 20,000 emails that embarrassed former secretary of state Hillary Clinton and the DNC, and forced the ouster of its chairwoman.
The DNC said in a statement: “We know of no evidence that supports these allegations.”
The allegations were reported by Fox News, including WTTG (Channel 5), its affiliate in the District. The reports cited a private investigator, Rod Wheeler, whom Fox said was hired by the Rich family and had previously worked for D.C. police. He also has been an on-air contributor to Channel 5. Fox News later cited an unnamed federal investigator, who said that Rich had transferred thousands of emails to a WikiLeaks director between January 2015 and May 2016.
Fox News did not respond to an inquiry from The Washington Post.
Rich’s killing has been the subject of intrigue, with speculation centered on Russia, the DNC and the bitter presidential campaign. WikiLeaks has added $20,000 to a reward to find Rich’s killer but has not said whether he had been working with or in contact with the group.
Various theories have purported that Rich may have been the source of the DNC email leaks or that he was about to reveal Russia as the hacker. Then-FBI Director James B. Comey testified in May that intelligence agencies concluded that Russia was behind the DNC hack.
The Rich family’s spokesman, Brad Bauman, said that Wheeler had not been hired by the family but by a “third-party” he identified as Ed Butowsky, a Dallas financier who regularly appears on Fox’s business channels and on other networks. Bauman said that Wheeler offered his services to the family, “claiming he wanted to help.”
Butowsky said that he talked to Seth Rich’s father and recommended Wheeler. He denied paying Wheeler or financing the investigation.
“This is devastating to the family,” Bauman said. “They have confidence in the police investigation and believe that every single one of these fake news stories actually harms the ability of the police department to get to the bottom of what actually happened.”
Wheeler said that he worked for D.C. police from 1989 to 1998 and once was a detective in the homicide unit. He said in an interview that he was told by a D.C. police detective involved in the investigation that there is evidence that DNC files were possibly transferred from Rich’s computer to a WikiLeaks representative. He declined to identify his source, and he did not return phone calls seeking comment after Rich’s family had publicly criticized him.
D.C. police said that Wheeler worked as an officer from 1990 to 1995, and officials were checking records to determine if he served in homicide. Sternbeck, the police spokesman, said that Wheeler was fired from the agency.
Ann E. Marimow, Devlin Barrett and Keith L. Alexander contributed to this report.