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Gingrich spreads conspiracy theory about slain DNC staffer

Former House speaker Newt Gingrich delivers a lecture to Ukrainian students in Kiev on Tuesday. (Efrem Lukatsky/AP)

Former House speaker Newt Gingrich, a stalwart supporter of President Trump, used a Sunday-morning appearance on “Fox and Friends” to spread the conspiracy theory that former Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich was killed last year to cover up the true story of how WikiLeaks obtained tens of thousands of hacked Democratic Party emails.

“We have this very strange story now of this young man who worked for the Democratic National Committee, who apparently was assassinated at 4 in the morning, having given WikiLeaks something like 53,000 emails and 17,000 attachments,” Gingrich said.

“Nobody’s investigating that, and what does that tell you about what’s going on? Because it turns out, it wasn’t the Russians. It was this young guy who, I suspect, was disgusted by the corruption of the Democratic National Committee. He’s been killed, and apparently nothing serious has been done to investigative his murder. So I’d like to see how [Robert S.] Mueller [III] is going to define what his assignment is.”

Mueller has been appointed as a special counsel to oversee a federal investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and any Russian collusion with Trump’s campaign.

Family of slain DNC staffer fights back against conspiracy theories with cease-and-desist letter

With no pushback from the Fox hosts, Gingrich shared innuendos that got new life last week after Rod Wheeler, an occasional contributor to Fox News whom a conservative donor had paid to probe Rich’s death, told local Fox affiliate WTTG 5 that he had new evidence. On Monday, Wheeler claimed to have sources at either the FBI or the D.C. police department who apparently knew that evidence existed of Rich — who was fatally shot in July — contacting WikiLeaks but that an unnamed person had told investigators to “stand down.”

Seth Rich came to D.C. to pursue a career in politics. He was shot dead in his Northwest Washington neighborhood on July 10. 2016. (Video: Claritza Jimenez/The Washington Post)

By Thursday, after follow-up questioning from CNN and NBC News, Wheeler had largely recanted his story, and Rich’s family had rejected Wheeler’s most explosive claim — that Rich’s laptop was in police custody. But Friday, and over the weekend, Fox News host Sean Hannity continued to suggest that Rich was killed in a cover-up.

A conspiratorial tale of murder, with Fox News at the center

Like Hannity, Gingrich confidently made claims about Rich that have not been proven and that the family has denied. Police have investigated Rich’s killing, which remains one of many unsolved murder cases in the city. There is no evidence that he was “disgusted by the corruption of the Democratic National Committee,” though last week, amateur sleuths falsely claimed that Rich had posted online as “pandas4bernie.” (He may have tweeted as “panda4progress.”)

There’s also no evidence that Rich contacted WikiLeaks. Until this week, conspiracy theorists had suggested that the hacker Guccifer 2.0 used Rich to get into DNC servers, based on possibly altered direct messages between Guccifer 2.0 and a model named Robbin Young. The new theories, which were covered on Fox News even as the source recanted, rely not on criminal evidence but on the fact that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange offered a reward for information about Rich’s killing and gave a meandering non-answer when asked whether Rich was his source.

But as the investigation into Russia’s role has picked up steam, Hannity and others have latched on to any suggestion that a source might emerge and link Rich to the DNC hack, though the FBI had spotted Russian-tied hacks as long ago as September 2015. Hannity has tweeted his support of Kim Dotcom, a flamboyant New Zealand-based Internet businessman now fighting extradition to the United States on copyright infringement and wire fraud charges, after Dotcom suggested — out of the blue — that he could reveal more details about Rich and WikiLeaks in the coming week.

Bauman, who had asked the Rich family to record that video, has also been a focus of conspiracy theories based on his long resume as a Democratic strategist.

“At this point, only people with transparent political agendas or sociopaths are still perpetuating Seth Rich conspiracies and in Newt Gingrich we find both,” said Bauman. He can never know the deep pain he has caused the Rich family, and I hope he is held accountable either in this world or the next.”

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