Aaron Rich accuses Ed Butowsky, a wealthy Dallas businessman and a Fox News guest; Internet activist Matt Couch and his media company, America First Media; and the conservative-leaning newspaper the Washington Times of acting with “reckless disregard for the truth,” according to the lawsuit, filed Monday in U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia.
The suit also alleges that the defendants pushed a conspiracy theory about Aaron Rich, suggesting he used his background as a defense contractor to leak documents — and that he covered up the disclosure. Rich is suing the defendants for defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress and invasion of privacy, among other actions.
The 62-page lawsuit was filed nearly two weeks after Seth Rich’s parents sued Fox News and Butowsky over a retracted story that touted a conspiracy theory about their son’s death, claiming the network “intentionally exploited” the tragedy for political purposes.
Rich was fatally shot in July 2016 in Washington’s Bloomingdale neighborhood, in what police believe was a botched robbery. But he soon became the subject of unfounded conspiracy theories among far-right online groups. Then, in May 2017, a Fox News story falsely claimed that investigators had evidence showing Rich leaked thousands of DNC emails to WikiLeaks that damaged Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, just weeks before he was killed.
The Fox News story, which contradicted U.S. intelligence that Russia was behind the WikiLeaks email dump, crumbled after the FBI said that a “federal investigator” and “FBI report” referred to in the story did not exist, according to The Washington Post’s Meagan Flynn. Another source in the story, private investigator and Fox News contributor Rod Wheeler, said the reporter fabricated his quote claiming he had evidence of emails between Rich and WikiLeaks.
Wheeler has since sued Fox News for defamation. (Fox News has denied all his claims.)
Fox News retracted the story nearly a week after it was published, saying the article “was not initially subjected to the high degree of editorial scrutiny we require for all our reporting.”
In May, Rich’s parents, Mary and Joel Rich, wrote an op-ed piece for The Washington Post explaining why Butowsky’s allegations were false. And in January, Aaron Rich sent a letter to Butowsky explicitly saying he was not involved in leaking the DNC emails and was not complicit in his brother’s death, according to the lawsuit.
“Yet in spite of having repeatedly been told that he was spreading false statements, and having no actual evidence that supported his claims, Defendant Butowsky continues to knowingly push for the publication of false information about Aaron and his family,” the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit alleges that Butowsky, America First Media, Couch and The Washington Times continued to push conspiracy theories despite the family’s repeated claims that those theories were unfounded. For example, the lawsuit cites how Butowsky wrote in the chat room of an August 2017 Periscope video by Couch that “Aaron Rich needs to come out and admit money in his account.”
Couch, in response, replied, “Ed just put it out there — Aaron Rich accepted money. Aaron Rich had money from WikiLeaks go into his personal account. Think about that. Aaron Rich had WikiLeaks money go into his personal account. Ok?” according to the lawsuit.
That accusation, the lawsuit alleges, was false.
The lawsuit also cites a March 2018 commentary piece in the Washington Times titled “More cover-up questions” that states: “It is well known in the intelligence circles that Seth Rich and his brother, Aaron Rich, downloaded the DNC emails and was paid by WikiLeaks for that information.”
No facts or evidence are presented to support those claims, and the lawsuit alleges that the newspaper did not retract the article after “receiving notice of the falsity of the statements about Aaron after the publication.”
Butowsky, America First Media and the Washington Times could not immediately be reached for comment. Butowsky told CNN shortly after the lawsuit was filed that he had no idea what Aaron Rich was “talking about.”
“I have nothing else to say, other than how many more family members do the Riches have that want to sue me?” he told CNN.
In a Periscope video Tuesday, Couch told his viewers that the lawsuit would not stop him from investigating the “truth.”
“You’re not going to detour us from investigating this and reporting the truth,” he said.