CNN's Brian Stelter explains how new Seth Rich report shows the "connections between Fox and the White House"
Stelter: New NPR report and lawsuit shows there could have been "even more coordination" over false Seth Rich story
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From the August 1 edition of CNN's At This Hour with Kate Bolduan:
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KATE BOLDUAN (HOST): Explosive allegations this morning. The White House worked with Fox News to run a conspiracy story involving a murdered DNC [Democratic National Committee] staffer, a story you may remember. Fox's reporting suggested that Seth Rich -- there he is -- his death last year may have been connected to the leak of DNC emails to Wikileaks. Rod Wheeler -- he's a Fox contributor, he’s at the center of the story -- he is the one filing the lawsuit. He alleges that Fox fabricated quotes from him to concoct the false story, that Fox sent an article draft to the White House for review. Wheeler's lawsuit states that the fake news story was intended to establish a connection between the DNC and Rich's murder to, quote, "help lift the cloud of the Russia investigation." NPR first broke this story.
Brian, there's a lot to this story.
BRIAN STELTER: Yeah.
BOLDUAN: What do we know right now?
STELTER: It's complicated, and at the center of it is a very sad, tragic story, the death of Seth Rich. This has a very human cost because his death one year ago has been exploited by these conspiracy theorists. People who try to say, "Oh, it must been somehow connected to the Democrats, maybe the Clinton's had him killed." And that way that means there was no collusion between Trump and Russia. That's the theory. Keep in mind as I explain this, this story that Fox did has been discredited, but it does have a human figure at the center of it whose family has been through hell. So what we know for sure is that this conspiracy theory about Seth Rich has reached the West Wing. We know that because [former White House press secretary] Sean Spicer confirmed to NPR that he took a meeting with the investigator in this case, Rod Wheeler, and the investor who paid the investigator, Ed Butowsky. So there was a meeting in the West Wing at the White House, this was in April. Spicer told NPR this was just a courtesy because he knew Ed. But it suggests that there could have been even more coordination here. And the lawsuit has some astonishing allegations about further coordination, even the suggestion that the president read a draft of the Fox story ahead of time.
BOLDUAN: And the -- by way of text messages and emails saying that the president had seen a draft of it.
STELTER: That's right. And now Butowsky is telling CNN's Oliver Darcy he's just joking -- he was just joking about that and this entire lawsuit is bull. So that's the claim from Butowsky. But this suit is against Fox, it's against one of the reporters who wrote the story. And remember, the story has been discredited and retracted by Fox News. But at the time, it was a big deal. It was a distraction from damaging Russia stories, a distraction from the firing of [former FBI Director] James Comey. People like [Fox host] Sean Hannity ate this conspiracy theory up. And where was Sean eating last week? The White House. Remember he has close ties to the president. So all of this, even though it's allegations in a lawsuit, it's very eye opening because of the connections between Fox and the White House.
BOLDUAN: And Seth Rich’s family even pleading and threatening legal action, asking this whole conspiracy theory to stop, leading up to all of this --
STELTER: Exactly. It’s been devastating for the family.
BOLDUAN: And saying that you’re injuring Seth’s reputation, you’re defaming the family and those who love him.