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Roger Stone

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  • Roger Stone says he's in communication with the White House about the Seth Rich lawsuit

    Stone was one of the first to push conspiracy theories about Rich’s murder, and he has called on Rich’s parents to be “charged with obstruction” of the investigation into their son’s death

    Blog ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    Roger Stone is doing damage control following the filing of a lawsuit alleging a scheme by Fox News and Trump administration officials -- including possibly the president himself -- to use the murder of Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich to absolve the Trump campaign of accusations it coordinated with Russia.

    During an appearance on Alex Jones’ conspiracy theory program, Stone said that officials he has spoken to at the White House are calling the lawsuit “bogus” and that he thinks the lawsuit will be dismissed “summarily.”  

    NPR reported on August 1 on a defamation lawsuit filed by Fox News contributor Rod Wheeler against 21st Century Fox, Fox News, Fox News reporter Malia Zimmerman, and frequent Fox guest Ed Butowsky.

    Wheeler alleges that Zimmerman published fake quotations attributed to him in a since-retracted May 16 story about Rich, and that Trump administration officials, including the president himself, were involved in crafting the story. The retracted story suggested that Rich, rather than Russia, provided WikiLeaks with emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee.

    Former White House press secretary Sean Spicer acknowledged to NPR that he did meet with Butowsky and Wheeler prior to the story’s publication. The lawsuit also alleges that Trump himself reviewed the Zimmerman story before it ran.

    Rich was murdered in Washington, D.C., in July 2016 in what local police believe was a botched robbery attempt. Conspiracy theories began spreading within weeks of Rich’s death and percolated throughout fringe right-wing media for nearly a year before finally exploding into the national conversation thanks to Fox News host Sean Hannity, who continuously hyped Zimmerman’s May 16 report.

    During the August 1 broadcast of conspiracy theory program The Alex Jones Show, Stone, a longtime Trump adviser, said, “My sources at Fox and my sources in the White House tell me that the lawsuit filed by the black private investigator, former D.C. police officer, is completely and totally bogus.” Stone also added that he thinks the lawsuit will be quickly dismissed.

    Stone was one of the first prominent figures to promote conspiracy theories about Rich’s death.  

    On August 9, 2016, less than a month after Rich’s death, Stone included Rich in a group of four murdered people for whom he blamed the Clintons:

    In recent months, Stone has turned his sights on Rich’s parents, first calling their behavior regarding the investigation into their son’s death “suspicious,” and most recently saying that Rich’s “parents should be charged with obstruction" of the investigation.

  • GOP county chair hosting Roger Stone thinks his McCain attacks are inappropriate (but will say so only by accident)

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI

    The chairman of a Republican Party group that’s hosting Roger Stone for two events in Arizona thinks Stone should stop trashing Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) as treasonous -- but he’ll say that only in an email he sent to Media Matters by accident.

    The Pima County Republican Party in Arizona is sponsoring two events with Stone on July 26. Stone, a longtime adviser to President Donald Trump, is a professional smear merchant who will soon host his own program for fellow conspiracy theorist Alex Jones’ Infowars network.  

    Both before and after it was announced on the evening of July 19 that McCain has brain cancer, Stone informed followers that his speech will feature attacks against McCain.

    During a July 18 appearance on a Glendale, AZ, radio program, Stone said that McCain will “die in disgrace as his antics are exposed for the American people. He’s not a hero, he’s a traitor. It’s very sad.” He also claimed that McCain is “mentally ill” and should be investigated for treason. Stone concluded by encouraging listeners to attend the Pima event because they “need to know that [McCain] is mentally unbalanced” and is treasonous.  

    On July 19 -- prior to the announcement about McCain's cancer -- Stone said during The Alex Jones Show that the Pima event would be “the John McCain truth tour. I am going to be exposing John McCain’s -- not only his treacherous and, yes, treasonous activity when it comes to his betrayal of President Donald Trump, but I’m going to be exposing his own campaign’s contacts with the Russians. In other words, John McCain is exactly guilty of the exact thing that Donald Trump has been accused falsely of by the Arizona senator. I want to focus on Senator McCain and his fitness to be the United States for Arizona (sic).”  

    On July 17 and 23, Stone sent an email to his mailing list stating, “Guests should prepare for a scorching analysis of John McCain’s involvement in the deep state attacks on President Trump.” That announcement was originally posted to Stone's website on July 14

    Media Matters sent a request for comment to Pima County Republican Party chairman David Eppihimer asking whether he thought Stone’s promotion of the event was appropriate. He replied, in part: “I DON'T believe this promotion is appropriate and should be ceased immediately.”

    Eppihimer intended to send that email to his first vice chair but misdirected it to Media Matters instead. When asked about the email, Eppihimer said he did not want to give a formal statement.

    The Arizona Republican Party did not reply to requests for comment about whether it thought Stone’s promotion of the event was appropriate.

    While Stone is primarily focused on smearing Democrats, he has also viciously attacked Republicans throughout his long career. He has repeatedly attacked commentator Ana Navarro with sexist and racist tweets; mocked columnist Charles Krauthammer for being paralyzed; accused the Bush family of running drugs; claimed Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-TX) father was tied to John F. Kennedy’s assassin Lee Harvey Oswald; and tweeted: “Religious fanatic Rick Santorum will never be President- I will order a mail-order rifle first.”

  • Trump is reportedly considering fulfilling a months-long right-wing media fantasy to fire Robert Mueller

    ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    President Donald Trump and his legal team “are exploring ways to limit or undercut special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, building a case against what they allege are his conflicts of interest,” according to a Washington Post report. The president’s right-wing media allies have waged a months-long campaign against Mueller and his team, calling for Mueller to be fired or his investigation “to be shut down,” and citing supposed “conflicts of interest” among members of Mueller’s investigative team and even of Mueller himself.

  • Report: GOP researcher who tried to collude with Russia for Trump campaign worked with far-right media figures

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    A Republican operative who tried to get emails from Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton during the 2016 election campaign and may have worked with people associated with President Donald Trump’s campaign worked with far-right media figures Chuck Johnson, Pax Dickinson, and, possibly, Daily Stormer writer Andrew Auernheimer, along with Russian-linked “Guccifer 2.0,” according to Politico.

    Chuck Johnson, the editor of fringe outlet GotNews, has a history of encouraging harassment and is currently working with fellow far-right troll Mike Cernovich on an effort to target journalists. He is also part of the far-right alternative-media echo-chamber that has worked in tandem with fake news purveyors to spread conspiracy theories and falsehoods. Trump himself is reportedly a reader of GotNews. Dickinson, with Johnson, ran the crowdsourcing platform WeSearchr, which has helped fund far-right causes, such as neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer. Auernheimer, a hacker known as “weev,” has written for Daily Stormer, recently using the site to threaten CNN reporter Andrew Kaczynski. And “Guccifer 2.0,” an entity connected to Russian hackers, previously communicated with Trump adviser and Infowars host Roger Stone.

    According to a July 11 Politico report, Republican operative Peter Smith, who worked to “track down copies of Clinton’s emails” from hackers that may have been affiliated with Russia and who may have worked with people associated with Trump’s campaign, asked Johnson and Dickinson “to help him understand the workings of the internet and make contacts in Trump’s orbit.” Johnson told Politico he and Smith “stayed in touch, discussing ‘tactics and research’ regularly throughout the presidential campaign, and that Smith sought his help,” along with Dickinson’s” “tracking down Clinton’s emails.” Johnson claimed he “put the word out to a ‘hidden oppo network’ of right-leaning opposition researchers to notify them of the effort,” and that he told Smith to get in touch with Auernheimer, although he “declined to say whether Smith contacted him.” Additionally, Johnson said that Smith “had people running around Europe, had people talking to Guccifer.” From the report:

    The activists, the journalist-turned-entrepreneur Charles Johnson and his former business partner Pax Dickinson, agreed to help [GOP operative Peter] Smith’s quixotic mission, which failed to track down copies of Clinton’s emails. Johnson is a polarizing figure who was banned from Twitter in 2015 after promoting an effort to “take out” a Black Lives Matter activist but maintains ties to White House officials. Smith also reached out to “Guccifer 2.0”—an alias the U.S. intelligence community has linked to Russian state hackers—and was advised to seek the help of a white nationalist hacker who lives in Ukraine.

    [...]

    Understanding Smith’s relationships could hold the key to the question of whether or not Trump’s campaign colluded with the Kremlin: Federal investigators are probing an apparent attempt by Russian government hackers to obtain the deleted emails and provide them to former national security adviser Michael Flynn through a third party, the Journal also reported. The paper was unable to identify the Russians’ intended intermediary, but suggested it may have been Smith, who had boasted of his ties to Flynn.

    The new details of Smith’s operation, which were shared with POLITICO Magazine by Johnson and others, paint a picture of a determined but ill-equipped activist casting about far and wide in a frantic but ultimately futile quest to get ahold of Clinton’s deleted emails and publish them ahead of Election Day.

    [...]

    Johnson said he and Smith stayed in touch, discussing “tactics and research” regularly throughout the presidential campaign, and that Smith sought his help tracking down Clinton’s emails. “He wanted me to introduce to him to Bannon, to a few others, and I sort of demurred on some of that,” Johnson said. “I didn’t think his operation was as sophisticated as it needed to be and I thought it was good to keep the campaign as insulated as possible.”

    Instead, Johnson said, he put the word out to a “hidden oppo network” of right-leaning opposition researchers to notify them of the effort. Johnson declined to provide the names of any of the members of this “network,” but he praised Smith’s ambition.

    “The magnitude of what he was trying to do was kind of impressive,” Johnson said. “He had people running around Europe, had people talking to Guccifer.” (U.S. intelligence agencies have linked the materials provided by “Guccifer 2.0”—an alias that has taken credit for hacking the Democratic National Committee and communicated with Republican operatives, including Trump confidant Roger Stone—to Russian government hackers.)

    [...]

    Johnson said he also suggested that Smith get in touch with Andrew Auernheimer, a hacker who goes by the alias “Weev” and has collaborated with Johnson in the past. Auernheimer — who was released from federal prison in 2014 after having a conviction for fraud and hacking offenses vacated and subsequently moved to Ukraine — declined to say whether Smith contacted him, citing conditions of his employment that bar him from speaking to the press.

  • To right-wing media, Donald Trump Jr.'s meeting with a Kremlin-connected lawyer is a "nothingburger"

    ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN

    After The New York Times reported that Donald Trump Jr., Paul Manafort, and Jared Kushner met with a Kremlin-linked lawyer during the 2016 campaign in hopes of receiving damaging information on Hillary Clinton, right-wing media immediately defended Trump Jr., calling the report a “nothingburger,” and “a big yawn,” and suggesting it would have been “malpractice” for him not to do so.

  • Did a GOP politician effectively buy Roger Stone’s endorsement against Sen. Elizabeth Warren?

    Stone posted endorsements of Massachusetts state Rep. Geoff Diehl days after he rented Stone's email list

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI

    Roger Stone posted social media endorsements of Massachusetts state Rep. Geoff Diehl’s bid to challenge Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) just days after Diehl rented his email list.

    Stone, who contributes to conspiracy theorist Alex Jones’ Infowars network and will soon host his own Infowars show, has a history of pushing racist, sexist, and conspiratorial rhetoric. Stone has been a longtime adviser to Trump and worked as a paid consultant for Trump’s campaign; he is now reportedly under FBI investigation as part of the agency’s probe into ties between the Trump campaign and Russia.

    Stone announced in May through a marketing company that he’s accepting advertisers for his “online presence,” which includes his email list and "social media posts."

    Diehl’s campaign rented Stone’s list on June 16 for a fundraising email. A message accompanying the email stated: “We are excited to share with you a special message from one of our sponsoring advertisers, Diehl For Senate. It is also sponsors like them that help fund Stone Cold Truth. Please note that the following message reflects the opinions and representations of our sponsor alone, and not necessarily the opinion of Roger Stone.”

    Endorsements for Diehl subsequently appeared on Stone's Facebook and Twitter accounts. Those posts gave no indication whether they were advertisements.

    Stone’s Facebook page posted the following on June 23: “Help Us Fire Elizabeth Warren!!!!! Geoff Diehl: The REAL Deal for Massachusetts Help build our grassroots movement to support the real Diehl for Massachusetts. Stand with Geoff Diehl for U.S. Senate. Your donation will send a loud message that it's time to put Massachusetts first.” Much of that language is taken from Diehl’s website. Diel’s Facebook page subsequently touted the Stone post by writing: “The Stone Cold Truth is that we need a U.S. Senator who will put Massachusetts first. Donate today!” 

    On June 24, Stone tweeted a link to a Diehl fundraising page and asked followers to "help us fire Elizabeth Warren."

    Diehl retweeted Stone and a supporter who celebrated Stone's tweet:

    Stone’s backing of Diehl is at odds with his colleagues at Infowars, which has thrown its support to entrepreneur Shiva Ayyadurai, who is competing against Diehl for the Republican nomination. He appeared on Alex Jones’ program on June 7 and June 25. During the June 7 interview, Jones said it was “really exciting” to have Ayyadurai challenging Warren, gave viewers his campaign website address, and asked the Republican how people can support his candidacy. Ayyadurai responded by asking Jones’ listeners to make donations and to volunteer with his campaign.

    He appeared on Jones’ June 25 show with guest host Owen Shroyer for roughly 20 minutes; the video description stated: “Everyone show your support for Dr. Shiva Ayyadurai running against Democrat Elitist, Elizabeth Warren in 2018. https://shiva4senate.com/ https://twitter.com/va_shiva.” During the appearance, the candidate said that “what Alex does is probably, sort of the last sort of beacon of truth that’s out there.”

    Requests for comment to Diehl were not returned.

    UPDATE (7/5): Roger Stone responded to this post while appearing on Newsmax TV by acknowledging that his “company did rent some lists to Mr. Diehl” and “during that process I examined his campaign and his credentials and frankly I became very impressed.” From a July 3 video posted by Newsmax TV:

    STEVE MALZBERG (HOST): There’s a Media Matters story, which I believe is from today, where they accuse you of being bought off by Geoff Diehl, who is going to run -- one of the candidates who wants to run against Elizabeth Warren -- because, I don’t know, they say that after he rented your email list you supported him, blah blah blah blah blah. And this is Media Matters, your friend.

    ROGER STONE: Yeah, well look, anything -- you can always tell when David Brock is lying: His lips are moving. Nothing at Media Matters for America can be believed. This is the ultimate fake news site. I did -- my company did rent some lists to Mr. Diehl for his campaign. They evidently raised quite a bit of money. During that process I examined his campaign and his credentials and frankly I became very impressed. He’s an excellent candidate, he’s a solid conservative, he is not an establishment Republican. And he’ll be a great replacement for Elizabeth Warren, fauxcahontas, in the U.S. Senate.

    UPDATE (7/21): According to its second quarter Federal Election Commission filing, Diehl for U.S. Senate paid a total of $5,330 on June 5 and June 22 for "online fundraising" to Alliance Strategies Group, which represents Stone for advertising opportunities.

  • These are the right-wing/fringe media figures Trump supposedly communicates with

    Based on reporting and the people themselves, Trump is on the phone with right-wing media and fringe figures a lot

    Blog ››› ››› SARAH WASKO & CRISTINA LóPEZ G.


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Alex Jones, Infowars host:

    “Trump gave me a call, and I told him, ‘Mr. President-elect, you’re too busy, we don’t need to talk.’ But we still spent over five minutes -- he said, 'Listen, Alex, I just talked to the kings and queens of the world -- world leaders, you name it.' But he said, 'It doesn’t matter, I wanted to talk to you to thank your audience, and I’ll be on in the next few weeks to thank them.'” Jones added that Trump indicated it was not a “private call” and told him, “I want to thank your viewers, thank your listeners for standing up for this republic. We know what you did early on and throughout this campaign to stand up for what’s right.” -- Alex Jones [Media Matters, 11/14/16]

    “As I said in one speech, ‘I’m sorry I missed Trump’s call.’ I know the numbers. I know when he calls. He calls like three times in a row. I was on air. He gets confused. He called me and I missed the calls and I just feel guilty because who knows what it was about. And I know Trump doesn’t -- I’ll tell the enemy this because Trump knows it’s true. They need to know this. Trump just wants to connect with a spirit that is good. He needs that energy.” -- Alex Jones [Media Matters, 2/24/17]

    “You and others have reached out and said, “If you talk to Trump, tell him this.” Half the time I’ve missed the calls and other ones, early on, calls were like 15 minutes long. We really talk. Now it’s like, “Alex. Lot of folks watching.” He knows everything he’s saying is being recorded. “Keep it up, great job. How’s the family? Just keep it up, you know I’m delivering. Are you happy?” It’s mainly a pat on the head, and I get that -- but then I talk to folks that have to go have private meetings with him and he’s just literally just like -- and I can’t get into it.” -- Alex Jones [Media Matters, 4/5/17]

    “You know why the FBI admits a month ago in Congress that I’m under investigation and that I’m being wiretapped? Because I talk to the president and I talk to people that talk to the president every day. And they want to be able to say, ‘Mr. President, he’s under investigation -- you can’t talk to Alex Jones.’” -- Alex Jones [Media Matters, 4/12/17]

    Sean Hannity, Fox News host:

    “But the fact is I know from the White House that no one in media talks to President [Donald] Trump more than Sean Hannity. Sean Hannity talks to President Trump two or three times a day, sometimes at length, and I'll just tell you right now, Sean Hannity is currently the main leader of the resistance against the globalists outside of Trump and then, of course, myself.” -- Alex Jones [Genesis Communications Network, The Alex Jones Show, 6/22/17]

    Chris Ruddy, Newsmax CEO:

    “Ruddy has been a ubiquitous presence in Trump’s sphere over the past several months, the ‘Zelig’ of the administration, as the Atlantic’s Rosie Gray wrote. He converses regularly with Trump and White House officials, and says he has given the president advice on everything from health care to Chinese relations to fake news.” [The Washington Post, 6/15/17]

    Corey Lewandowski, One America News Network commentator, and David Bossie, Fox contributor:

    “President Donald Trump personally reached out to two of his former campaign aides – his first campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, and his deputy campaign manager, David Bossie – to sound them out about working with the administration as crisis managers, according to two people familiar with the situation.” [Politico, 5/22/17]

    Kimberly Guilfoyle, Fox News host:

    KIMBERLY GUILFOYLE (CO-HOST): I don't think this is a deal that anybody should be crying about. Like we said, it's nonbinding, and the United States is already a clean energy, oil and gas leader. So, we can keep doing what we're doing, we can keep reducing our emissions. Why would we in fact put ourselves at an economic disadvantage, giving and subsidizing an economic windfall to other countries, in sort of a climate redistribution of wealth scheme? It makes no sense to me. I think he did the brave and courageous thing, and in fact, I told him that this morning at 8 a.m., when he called. And I spoke to him about it, and this was something very much so on his mind, but he seemed like--

    GREG GUTFELD (CO-HOST): Wait a second, who called you?

    GUILFOYLE: The president.

    GUTFELD: Why?

    DANA PERINO (CO-HOST): To ask about climate change?

    GUTFELD: Why did he call you?

    GUILFOYLE: Climate change, taxes. The Five. [Fox News, The Five, 6/1/17]

    Roger Stone, Infowars contributor:

    GUEST CO-HOST: When was the last time you talked to him?

    ROGER STONE: Been a little while now. I would say -- I don’t want to characterize it, but less than a week ago.

    GUEST CO-HOST: Good talk?

    STONE: From time to time. He’s easier to find on the weekends. He’s got more time on his hands. But I’m happy to say after I was on with George Stephanopoulos, he called. After I was on with Chuck Todd, he called. After the Netflix document trailer was released, he called.

    GUEST CO-HOST: What’d he say?

    STONE: Well, I mean, he was certainly pleased with those appearances because, of course, I was happy to defend Donald Trump. [SiriusXM Patriot, The David Webb Show, 5/5/17]

    “On May 11th Roger Stone, Donald Trump’s on-again, off-again political adviser for several decades, had just wrapped up a pair of morning television appearances when, according to two sources with direct knowledge, he received a call from the President. ... As Stone left the studio on May 11th, the President, who the evening before had essentially pretended not to know him anymore, had a simple message: good job.” [The New Yorker, 5/31/17]

    Eric Bolling, Fox News host:

    “Fox News host Eric Bolling said he’s talked to President Donald Trump about how to best go about “draining the swamp” — one of Trump’s top campaign promises and the central topic of the cable-news star’s latest book. [...] Bolling said the president has read his book, and he’s had several discussions with him about how to best go about fighting corruption.” [The Daily Caller, 6/26/17]

    Rupert Murdoch, chairman of News Corp. and 21st Century Fox, CEO of Fox News:

    “The president’s relationship with Mr. Murdoch is deeper and more enduring than most in his life, and the two commiserate and plot strategy in their phone calls, according to people close to both.” [The New York Times, 4/22/17]

  • Roger Stone is calling for Robert Mueller and Rod Rosenstein to be fired for their “witch hunt” against Trump

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Roger Stone says President Trump should fire special counsel Robert Mueller and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein for “wasting the taxpayer’s money” in what he called, a “witch hunt” to take down the president.

    During an interview with CNN Money, Stone, a close ally and longtime adviser of Donald Trump blasted the investigation into alleged collusion between Trump’s campaign and the Russians calling it a wasteful “witch hunt.” Stone’s comments come after Trump tweeted similar remarks earlier in the day calling the investigation a “witch hunt” and cryptically claiming he is being investigated by “the man who told [him] to fired the FBI Director,” an attack presumably accusing Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein of investigating him for firing former FBI Director Comey at his direction.

    Stone sells himself as Trump’s inside man and has openly talked about his official and unofficial roles in Trump’s presidential campaign. He has been under FBI scrutiny for his role in allegedly “colluding with the Russians to defeat Hillary Clinton and put his friend in the White House.” Stone maintains his innocence despite the investigation and continues to downplay his role in coordinating with the Russians during the election.

    JEFF ZELENY: Now as the president returns to the White House in this hour, one question above all that he's facing is what is his relationship with the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein? Now, the president has said through his aides he does not plan, at this time, to try and fire the special counsel Bob Mueller, but there's one person recommending he does just that. Jake [Tapper], Roger Stone, the president's longtime friend and associate told CNN Money earlier today this, “I'd fire Mueller and Rosenstein for wasting the taxpayer's money. This is a witch-hunt.” Those words sound familiar.

  • Another low for Roger Stone: Seth Rich’s “parents should be charged with obstruction”

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI

    Roger Stone, who has a long history of pushing smears and toxic rhetoric, is now calling for the parents of late Democratic staffer Seth Rich to be charged with obstructing the investigation into their son’s death.

    Stone is a longtime adviser and ally of President Donald Trump who regularly spouts violent, racist, and sexist rhetoric. He’s also a discredited researcher who has pushed fringe conspiracy theories about 9/11 and the Bush and Clinton families.

    Seth Rich was a staffer for the Democratic National Committee when he was shot and killed in July 2016 in Washington, D.C. His unsolved murder has prompted numerous conspiracy theories from conservative media figures such as Sean Hannity, Alex Jones, and Newt Gingrich. (Hannity’s smears have motivated advertisers to pull ads from his program.)

    Rich’s family has pleaded with conservative media to stop peddling “discredited conspiracy theories” about their son’s death and said the right-wing media’s rhetoric has "perpetuate[d] our nightmare."

    That matters little to Stone, who is now casting doubts on the parents’ motives and saying they “should be charged with obstruction.”

    Stone told the Miami New Times that Seth Rich’s “parents should be charged with obstruction":

    But Hannity isn't the only media force still pushing the almost certainly bogus Seth Rich-WikiLeaks claims. South Florida's Roger Stone continues to give the conspiracy theories heavy play through his show on InfoWars, his social media accounts, and on his own site, the Stone Zone. Doesn't he feel any need to back down given the rumors' widespread debunking and the Rich family's requests to stop?

    "Their right to privacy is important, but not as important as the public's right to the truth," Stone says in a text message to New Times. "Frankly, at this point, the parents should be charged with obstruction."

    He previously claimed in an error-riddled rant on his weekly radio program that the parents are engaging in “suspicious” behavior:

    You have a number of interesting factors here. First of all, there’s the change in the story of Seth Rich’s parents. Initially they themselves denied that this was a robbery. Now suddenly they’re being represented by a crisis communications consultant paid for by the Democratic National Committee. To say the least, that is suspicious.

    He also wrote on his website that “people who should want that truth revealed should be Mr. Rich’s loving parents themselves. Their lack of interest in this question only makes the events surrounding this investigation smell worse.”     

    Stone accused the Clintons of murdering Rich shortly after his death, tweeting: “Four more dead bodies in the Clinton's wake. Coincidence? I think not.”

  • How the murder of a DNC staffer turned into a right-wing conspiracy

    The story goes through nearly everyone in right-wing media: Sean Hannity, Roger Stone, Louise Mensch, Megyn Kelly, Jim Hoft, Julian Assange, and more

    Blog ››› ››› JOHN WHITEHOUSE


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    It started with a late night walk on July 10, 2016. Seth Rich was talking with his girlfriend while walking through the Bloomingdale neighborhood of Washington, D.C., when there was some sort of altercation. Rich was shot multiple times and died shortly thereafter.

    Nearly a year later, his death has become a cause célèbre among right-wing media and the fringiest elements of pro-Trump media, simply because he worked as a staffer for the Democratic National Committee (DNC).

    The conspiracy theories started immediately. The day after Rich was killed, a Twitter user connected the murder with a lawsuit filed by Bernie Sanders supporters against the DNC. (This lawsuit would later be the subject of right-wing conspiracy theories after the death of a process server that the coroner would later conclude was caused by accidental polypharmacy, or a combination of drugs.)

    The first right-wing version of the conspiracy theory was about confirming right-wing allegations against the Clinton Foundation. On July 13, conspiracy theory website WhatDoesItMean.com (previously cited by pro-Trump media) ran a piece, sourced to the Kremlin, claiming that Rich thought he was on his way to meet with the FBI about the Clinton Foundation when a “hit team” put in place by the Clintons killed him. The article also linked the conspiracy theory with two Russian diplomats who were expelled by the United States two days before Rich’s murder, and it concluded by claiming the hit team was captured on July 12 in Washington, D.C. The actual police events of July 12 had nothing to do with any of this. On July 14, Snopes debunked this conspiracy theory.


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    On July 22, WikiLeaks released 20,000 emails that had been stolen from the DNC, and Redditors immediately started guessing that Rich was the source of those emails. Heat Street, a News Corp. publication then run by Louise Mensch, ran a roundup of these rumors. In the post, Heat Street simply went through the “r/The_Donald” subreddit, listing different conspiracy theories that users had come up with, even comparing one theory to the work of mathematician John Nash and the movie A Beautiful Mind. Heat Street had also mentioned the FBI rumor in the bottom of a previous post about Rich’s murder, noting that there was no evidence to substantiate it.

    The one entity that did claim to be the WikiLeaks source was Guccifer 2.0. As The New York Times explained on July 27, while American intelligence services believed Guccifer 2.0 to be a front for Russian spies, the hacker claimed to be Romanian. In the report, the Times detailed evidence linking the emails to Russia, including “metadata hidden in the early documents indicating that they were edited on a computer with Russian language settings.”


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Notorious dirty trickster Roger Stone, a contributor to Alex Jones' conspiracy theory website Infowars, and WikiLeaks began pushing the conspiracy theory in earnest in August. In an August 8 tweet, Stone included Rich in a group of four murdered people for whom he blamed the Clintons, referencing the FBI version of the conspiracy theory. A day later, WikiLeaks announced that it was offering $20,000 for information, and founder Julian Assange himself brought up Rich unprompted on a Dutch TV program, implying that Rich was a source. The host was taken aback by Assange’s suggestion and tried to push him on what he was implying, but Assange did not clarify his remark:

    Pro-Trump media jumped on the interview. Mike Cernovich immediately promoted the interview while stating point-blank that Rich was the source -- something that even Assange never said. On August 10, Hannity discussed the interview on his radio show, saying that it wasn’t the Russians who gave WikiLeaks the information. Later in the show, he discussed the matter with Gateway Pundit’s Jim Hoft and Townhall’s Rachel Alexander. Hoft was befuddled as to why the Rich family would not want the matter politicized, saying that it could only increase the information about the murder.

    Also on August 10, Infowars’ Paul Joseph Watson published a video about Assange’s implication, expressing concern that Assange could be assassinated:

    Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich also jumped on Assange’s interview on the same day, telling Mike Gallagher on August 10 that the conspiracy theory was “worth talking about.”

    WikiLeaks also issued a similarly vague statement on August 10.

    On August 11, WikiLeaks started sowing distrust in Rich’s family when it tweeted that the family’s spokesperson was a “professional Democrat” -- even though the same could be said for Rich himself.

    In the days that followed, Infowars ramped up its coverage. Watson cited a “source close to the Democratic party” who said his reporting was “on the money.” Infowars dutifully picked up Gingrich’s interview and used it to confirm its own assertions. The conspiracy theory site was particularly incensed that the Rich family would hire a spokesperson to quash conspiracy theories. And it went on to publish multiple pieces about Rich that included accounts of WikiLeaks’ assertions and implications about Rich.

    Assange would resurface and again hint that Rich was his source on the August 25 edition of The Kelly File, again declaring his interest in the case without actually saying anything about Rich himself. While Laura Ingraham and some others ran with what Assange said to Kelly File host Megyn Kelly, Fox host Greg Gutfeld hit Assange for pushing the conspiracy theory -- to the distaste of fellow Fox host Eric Bolling:

    The conspiracy theory machine would turn away from Rich for most of September and October, though during this time Hannity frequently talked with Assange on his radio show, eager for new leaks that could be damaging to Clinton. In September, Rich’s girlfriend and his family spoke with Chris Hansen of Crime Watch Daily about the case, condemning the claims. GOP lobbyist Jack Burkman also began working with the Rich family at this time, offering more than $100,000 in rewards for information. Burkman would later say that he could “rule out attempted robbery” based on his canvassing of the neighborhood.

    On October 7, The Daily Beast reported that “Russia’s senior-most officials” ordered the DNC hack. On November 2, fake news purveyor DC Gazette published a post saying that WikiLeaks’ source was neither Russia nor Seth Rich, but instead dissatisfied government staffers. On December 9, The Washington Post reported on a CIA assessment that Russia was behind leaks targetting the DNC, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), and Clinton campaign manager John Podesta.

    This Post story would touch off a new round of conspiracy theories about Rich, and once again they began with Louise Mensch’s Heat Street. On December 14, the site aggregated comments on Twitter saying that it was Seth Rich and not Russia that provided WikiLeaks with the emails. The piece offered no theory as to how Rich could have gotten access to DCCC or Podesta emails; indeed, it’s unclear from the story if the author even understood that there were multiple hacks, even though Mensch herself turned up in the hacked Podesta emails (which the piece did not disclose). Weeks after this post, it was announced that Mensch had left Heat Street in “mid-December.” There is no indication if Mensch was still at Heat Street when this post was published.

    On December 15, Craig Murray, a “close associate” of Julian Assange, told the Daily Mail that he was a middleman for the leaks and that the handoff took place in D.C. in September. People immediately began tying Rich to Murray, even though Murray’s supposed handoff date (of which there was no evidence) took place months after Rich was murdered.

    Later that day on the radio, Hannity would cite Murray’s account as evidence that Russians were not behind the hacking. Later in the program, Hannity brought up Fox contributor John Bolton’s conspiracy theory from December 12 that if something looked like it was the Russians hacking, it might actually be a false flag in which someone made it look like it was the Russians. Assange agreed with the theory on Hannity’s show: 

    Hannity also called Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) an “idiot” for saying that Russians were involved in hacking:

    Weeks later, on January 3, Hannity returned to Rich, again saying that Rich may have been the source for Wikileaks:

    On January 6, U.S. officials released a report saying that Russians were behind the hacking. Suddenly, Hannity admitted that Russians have been hacking Americans for years:

    On January 12, Guccifer 2.0 denied the report that Russia was behind the hacking.

    Once again, the conspiracy mill died down, with occasional posts on 4chan and Reddit keeping the conspiracy theory alive.

    On February 27, Jack Burkman, the GOP lobbyist who at one point was allied with the Rich family, told the Daily Mail that he had evidence that the Russians killed Rich because Rich had evidence that they were the ones behind the hacking. Burkman’s only source was a “former U.S. intelligence officer” -- “an older man, 65-70 years old, who claims to have been a contractor in Iraq in the 1970s.” None of Rich’s friends or family members have given any indication that Rich had such an explosive secret.

    In mid-March, Stone admitted contact with Guccifer 2.0, but he claimed it was innocuous.

    On March 23, Burkman talked to Sinclair station WJLA in Washington, D.C., about launching a new investigation. Claiming that the investigation would be launched out of “the Seth Rich Center for Investigations” in Arlington, VA, Burkman now claimed to have a team including “a forensic physiologist, a security specialist and George Washington grad students.” But the piece also noted that the Rich family had no part in this effort.

    On April 8, a new conspiracy theory emerged alleging that Guccifer 2.0 was the middleman between RIch and WikiLeaks. Model Robbin Young published screenshots on her website of a purported direct message conversation she had with Guccifer 2.0 from August 25. In it, Guccifer 2.0 claimed that the DNC leak came from someone named “Seth” and responded affirmatively when Young talked about Rich’s murder. WikiLeaks, the subreddit “r/The Donald,” Gateway Pundit, Heat Street, and others immediately ran with the claim.


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    The conspiracy theory came to its most public stage on May 15. That was a week after Obama intelligence chief James Clapper and former acting attorney general Sally Yates testified before the Senate partially on issues relating to Russian hacking, days after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey as a result of the Russian investigation, and hours after The Washington Post reported that Trump gave highly classified information to Russian diplomats in the Oval Office that compromised a valuable intelligence source.

    On that day, Fox News contributor Rod Wheeler told Fox 5 DC, a station owned and operated by Fox News’ parent company, that he had evidence that Rich was in contact with WikiLeaks.

    Sean Hannity pushed the story on his Twitter account shortly after midnight, including by quote-tweeting a vague allegedly hacked email of Podesta’s:

    After retweeting a video of the Fox 5 segment, Hannity affirmatively quote-tweeted someone claiming that Assange had previously said that Rich was his source (which, again, Assange had never actually said).

    The story exploded as conservatives latched onto a tale that ostensibly showed that the focus on Russia was misplaced. Drudge put the story on the top of the site. The subreddit “r/The Donald” went crazy. Pro-Trump media pushed the story hard. Fox News joined in on Tuesday morning. By 10 a.m., Hannity was lashing out at CNN's Oliver Darcy for noticing the trend.

    Hannity then quote-tweeted Robbin Young, whose story about Seth Rich was different from the one Wheeler was pushing and that Hannity was touting. (Guccifer 2.0 claimed that they served as the middleman between Rich and Wikileaks; Assange had implied and Wheeler had stated that Rich was in touch with WikiLeaks directly.) At no point then or later did Hannity ever seem to notice the discrepancy.

    At one point, Infowars’ Paul Joseph Watson even claimed that the Washington Post story about Trump giving highly classified information to the Russians was a hoax intended to cover up the Rich story -- a claim based on Watson completely misreading time stamps on the stories (the Post’s went up before the Fox 5 piece did).

    But soon, the Rich story fell completely apart. The Fox station admitted on May 16 that D.C. police said that Wheeler’s claim was false. Wheeler’s contact with the Rich family turned out to be frequent Fox News guest and Breitbart author Ed Butowsky. Wheeler himself admitted to CNN that he actually had no evidence. Wheeler instead claimed that his comments were reflective of the FoxNews.com piece that ran. Fox News’ piece, by Malia Zimmerman, cited Wheeler as the source of the claim.

    And yet, the transparent bullshit was still enough for pro-Trump media. On May 16, echoing Benghazi conspiracy theories, Gateway Pundit claimed there was a “stand down” order given to police regarding the Rich investigation. An “alt-right” troll asked Trump himself about Rich in the White House, getting no response. Anonymous posts on 4chan linked Rich to Pizzagate, Antonin Scalia’s death, Michael Hastings’ death, and even Media Matters. An anonymous post on 8chan even suggested that Rich was illegally surveilled and then improperly unmasked by former national security adviser Susan Rice.

    Lou Dobbs on Fox Business picked up the line of attack on Rich’s family that had previously begun with WikiLeaks and Infowars, saying there was “a partisan shroud” on Rich’s family:

    Later on May 16, Hannity even declared that Rich’s murder “could become one of the biggest scandals in American history”:

    Later in the show, Hannity talked with American Center for Law and Justice’s Jay Sekulow and former Trump deputy campaign manager David Bossie, focusing on the media being wrong about Russia. Hannity continually brought Rich into the conversation:

    Hannity then had Wheeler himself on the show. Wheeler continued pushing the conspiracy theory, even while admitting that he never had seen the evidence.

    The next day, even more claims collapsed. Newsweek reported that the FBI is not investigating Rich’s death, contra Wheeler’s claims, and a family spokesperson confirmed that D.C. police found no evidence of stolen emails ever being on Rich’s laptop. Fox 5 added an editor’s note that Wheeler had backtracked from claims that he made, but it did not retract the story. The story was in shambles. The Rich family demanded full retractions from Fox 5 and Fox News.

    Still, conservative media persisted.

    On May 18, after Mediaite published a post highlighting people mocking Hannity, Hannity again tweeted his belief in the conspiracy.

    Hannity then discussed the case at length on his show, re-airing Assange’s Dutch TV interview and previous radio interviews.

    On May 19, the Rich family sent a cease-and-desist letter to Rod Wheeler.

    The Russian Embassy in the U.K. trolled everyone when it stated as a fact that Rich was WikiLeaks’ source. Meanwhile, Infowars claimed that The Washington Post was reporting on the Comey memos only as a distraction from the Rich story.

    May 19 is also when Megaupload founder Kim Dotcom inserted himself into the story. Dotcom alleged that he had bombshell information on the case. As Dotcom, who lives in New Zealand, is fighting extradition to the United States to avoid trial for charges including conspiracy to commit racketeering, nearly everyone on the planet saw through the ruse, save for Sean Hannity.

    Hannity brought up the conspiracy theory again that night on his show with Jay Sekulow, apparently just for the purpose of saying that it is important because if true, it would clear Russia entirely.

    Over the weekend, it got even stranger.

    Stone escalated attacks on Rich’s parents, claiming on his radio show Stone Cold Truth they were engaging in “suspicious” behavior.

    Stone also told obvious lies. For instance, he claimed that Craig Murray said Rich was his source. First, Murray did not mention Rich in his comments about serving as a middleman for the emails. Second, Murray said he met his source in September, months after Rich had already been murdered. Third, nothing about what Murray actually did say is credible in the least -- there’s no evidence and nothing has been corroborated. There were other factual errors as well, though “Roger Stone says something factually incorrect” is the rule, not the exception.

    “Dumbest man on the internet” Jim Hoft jumped head-first into the Dotcom conspiracy, even one-upping Hannity by picking up an anonymous 4chan poster whose only claim to knowledge is “I work in D.C.” The post claimed there’s a “panic” in D.C. over the Rich conspiracy theory that right-wing media had been pressing.

    The following day, Hannity would echo this post:

    Hannity even admitted that it was about the Russia story:

    Also on Sunday, Newt Gingrich joined Fox & Friends Sunday and stated outright that Rich was WikiLeaks’ source for DNC emails, even though he had avoided that conclusion in August. Pro-Trump media jumped to promote the interview.

    Another Gateway Pundit post took a video that the Rich family did thanking donors to a GoFundMe campaign and stated that it was actually done to thank conservative media for pushing the conspiracy.

    Elsewhere, self-described “rogue journalist” Caitlin Johnstone said that someone had edited Rich’s Reddit posts. Soon after, she added a “retraction” note to the post following a statement from the Pandas For Bernie Facebook group.

    Early on May 22, Assange was still playing coy about Rich and WikiLeaks

    But by this point, the story was getting attention in the mainstream media -- but only as a conspiracy theory run amok in right-wing media. As Hannity’s conspiracy-mongering had drawn attention, he became a focal point of criticism. The Daily Beast ran a story about Fox News personalities embarrassed by Hannity’s actions.

    Hannity was undeterred:

    On his radio show, Hannity said that he was right about Rich because he had been right about Trayvon Martin, the black teenager shot and killed while walking through a Florida neighborhood:

    (He wasn’t right about Trayvon Martin, by the way.)

    Geraldo Rivera, a perpetual gadfly when it comes to pushing terrible things, also jumped on the conspiracy.

    Elsewhere, the subreddit “r/The Donald” announced plans for a march on D.C. about Rich’s death on its anniversary, claiming 1.1 million people could show up.


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    On May 23, everything came to a head. Rich’s brother personally asked Hannity to stop pushing the conspiracy theories. Shortly thereafter, Fox News retracted its story about Rich, the one that Rod Wheeler originally cited as the basis for his story. A statement from Fox News said that the story did not meet the site’s editorial standards.

    And yet after all of this, Hannity continued to push the story on his radio show.

    On Twitter, Hannity ecstatically promoted Kim Dotcom’s “revelation,” which was a big nothingburger.

    The Rich family then published an op-ed in The Washington Post begging commentators to stop pushing conspiracy theories about their son.

    Hannity then tweeted about the op-ed as if it wasn’t just about him

    Shortly before his television show, Hannity tweeted that he still stood behind everything he had said on the topic, but also that he just was on a call with three of his attorneys:

    On his show, Hannity said that he was stopping talking about the matter “for now” at the request of the Rich family:

    And yet before his show was over, Hannity hinted on Twitter that he was still looking at the story.

    He even retweeted gratuitous praise from Kim Dotcom.

    Meanwhile, Oliver Darcy, who followed the story closely from the beginning, had a list of good unanswered questions for Fox News about Hannity’s despicable and ghoulish actions.

    Hannity then begged for fans to spread the conspiracy theory.

    By morning, a Republican congressman was echoing Hannity.

    Newt Gingrich, after pushing the conspiracy both in August and again on May 21, suddenly said that he didn’t know anything about it, telling The Washington Post, “I don’t know anything about it. … I know exactly what has been said on the various blog sites. ... I think it is worth looking at.”

    The retractions and hedging were much too little and far too late. In the bowels of pro-Trump media, Hannity had become a martyr and the Seth Rich conspiracy theory was gospel.

    The enduring tragedy of the episode is that the Rich family will likely have to live with this delusion bubbling up for a very long time. Even worse, pro-Trump media will say that they are part of it.

    No family deserves that.

    Research assistance provided by Bobby Lewis

  • After Trump Gave Russia Classified Intel, Roger Stone Offers Multiple Assurances Of The President's Mental State

    Stone Says He Has Spoken To Trump Recently And The President Is “Perfectly Sane,” “Sharp As A Tack,” And “A Genius”

    Blog ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    Following The Washington Post’s bombshell report that President Donald Trump revealed highly classified information to Russian officials, longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone offered several reassurances of Trump’s mental state, saying the president is “perfectly sane” and that “he’s not crazy; he’s a genius.”

    According to a May 15 report from the Post, “President Trump revealed highly classified information to the Russian foreign minister and ambassador in a White House meeting last week, according to current and former U.S. officials, who said Trump’s disclosures jeopardized a critical source of intelligence on the Islamic State.” The Post’s reporting that Trump shared classified information has been confirmed by The New York Times, BuzzFeed, and Reuters.

    Following these reports, Stone appeared in three videos for conspiracy theorist Alex Jones’ Infowars outlet during the evening of May 15, where in each instance he said he had spoken with Trump “recently” before offering assurances about Trump’s mental state. Stone cast the Post story as part of a "major media thrust" to "destabilize" the president and portray him as mentally unfit for office.

    Stone has had a relationship with Trump for at least three decades and worked as a paid consultant to his campaign in 2015. He recently began marketing “opportunities” for advertisers based on his access to the president.

    In the first video, which was posted to Alex Jones’ YouTube channel, Stone said, “I've spoken to the president in recent days. He is perfectly sane, he is upbeat, he is combative, he has no intention of folding for the globalists, and that I can assure you.”

    ROGER STONE: To get back to the main point, this is a major media thrust, an attack on the president to further destabilize him. It is not coincidental that there is a video up today accusing the president of having Alzheimer’s and making the case that he is non compos mentis [not of sound mind]. This is the next big wave that they intend to put out there. Well, I've spoken to the president in recent days. He is perfectly sane, he is upbeat, he is combative, he has no intention to folding for the globalists, and that I can assure you.

    Stone and Jones then posted a “clean” second video where both men went through talking points nearly identical to those found in the first video. In this video, Stone said, “I've spoken to the president in recent days. He is the same as he was 40 years ago. He is resilient, he is optimistic, he is upbeat, and he is not going to be undone by the Washington quislings and the establishment stooges around him.” He also accused national security adviser H.R. McMaster of being the source for the Post’s story:

    ROGER STONE: It's not incidental that we have a video up now on the Internet claiming that the president is suffering from Alzheimer’s. I predict to you this will be the next wave of fake news -- that the president is ill on the basis of a disease. I've spoken to the president in recent days. He is the same as he was 40 years ago. He is resilient, he is optimistic, he is upbeat, and he is not going to be undone by the Washington quislings and the establishment stooges around him. If you look at it on the basis of motive and you look at everyone who was in the meeting, all fingers point to [H.R.] McMaster -- he’s the only one with the plausible motive. It's not in Reince Priebus' interest. It's not in Rex Tillerson's interest. It's certainly not in the Russians’ interests. The leak came from McMaster.

    In a third video, also shot that evening, Stone said, “I've talked to the president fairly recently -- he is sharp as a tack. There is no evidence of any deterioration in his thought process.” Expressing concern that Trump could be removed from office via the 25th Amendment, Stone added, “Look at his record on the economy, look at his appointment to the Supreme Court, look at the way he has the Chinese doing our dirty work in North Korea, and you will see he’s not crazy; he’s a genius”:

    ROGER STONE:  Disclaimer right up front. They're going to say that this is a conspiracy theory, but it's the Stone cold truth. They are going to claim that Donald Trump has Alzheimer’s and that it is progressive and that is progressing and that is the source of his "insanity." I've talked to the president fairly recently -- he is sharp as a tack. There is no evidence of any deterioration in his thought process. This is completely bogus. But under the 25th Amendment, if a majority of the cabinet plus the vice president agree that the president is incapacitated, well then he is removed. And if he seeks to fight the charges, it goes to the U.S. House of Representatives, where erosion among Republicans could destroy the Trump presidency. This is bogus. They could not beat him at the ballot box, so now they seek to remove him by claiming that he's insane. Look at his record on the economy, look at his appointment to the Supreme Court, look at the way he has the Chinese doing our dirty work in North Korea, and you will see he’s not crazy; he’s a genius.