President Trump and White House officials allegedly reviewed a Fox News story about the death of Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich before it was published and pushed for it to be published “immediately,” according to an explosive lawsuit filed Tuesday.
The May 16 article, which allegedly contained fabricated quotes and was later retracted, fueled conspiracy theories that Rich was murdered in connection with a massive WikiLeaks data dump of 20,000 DNC emails.
In a stunning twist, the suit, filed in Manhattan federal court, alleges that then—White House press secretary Sean Spicer met with two Fox News contributors in April about the Rich murder and “asked to be kept abreast of developments.”
“The motivation behind the article: establish that Seth Rich provided WikiLeaks with the DNC emails to shift the blame from Russia and help put to bed speculation that President Trump colluded with Russia in an attempt to influence the outcome of the presidential election,” the suit says.
Spicer confirmed to ABC News that he met with Dallas financial adviser Ed Butowsky, who was identified in the lawsuit as a “frequent contributor for Fox News.”
“Ed is longtime supporter of the president’s agenda who often appears in the media. He asked for a 10 minute meeting, with no specified topic, to catch up and said he would be bringing along a contributor to Fox News. As Ed himself has noted, he has never met the president, and the White House had nothing to do with his story,” Spicer said in a statement.
According to the lawsuit, filed by Fox News contributor Rod Wheeler, Fox News investigative reporter Malia Zimmerman wrote in her article that Rich provided DNC emails to WikiLeaks during the 2016 presidential primaries.
The Fox News network and its parent company, 21st Century Fox, were named in the lawsuit, as were Zimmerman and Butowsky. The suit alleges defamation and racial discrimination. Zimmerman declined to comment, according to a Fox spokesperson.
NPR was the first to report on the lawsuit.
The lawsuit includes a screenshot of a text message, dated May 14, allegedly from Butowsky to Wheeler, that reads, “Not to add any more pressure but the president just read the article. He wants the article out immediately. It’s now all up to you. But don’t feel the pressure.”