Donald Trump is again under pressure for his behind-the-scenes alleged meddling. This time, The President is accused of pressuring Fox News to run a story that many, after the fact, have held up as an egregious example of fake news. If the claim is true, it will add a new element to the debate on Russian meddling.
This instance revolves around news coverage of the death of DNC staffer Seth Rich. A new lawsuit, aimed at Fox News, Malia Zimmerman and Ed Butowsky, effectively accuses Trump of knowingly spreading false news about Rich in an attempt to diffuse tensions over Russian hacking. By blaming the Wikileaks email scandal on Rich, and not on the Russians, Trump is distanced from the controversy.
As The Daily Mail reports, “Rod Wheeler filed a complaint on Tuesday in the Southern District of New York against Fox News, Malia Zimmerman and Ed Butowsky claiming that they worked together to create a false narrative surrounding the death of Rich.”
Filings also claim that Trump asked for fake quotes, quotes attributed to Wheeler, to be included in the story.
“Wheeler is a former Washington DC homicide detective who investigated Rich;s murder and frequently appeared as a guest on Fox News to discuss the case,” The Mail adds.
Butowsky is harder to place in the triangle. He’s a Texas money manager. As a Trump supporter, he worked to further Trumps agenda. The crux of this case is a text message he sent to Wheeler.
“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,” Butowsky texted Wheeler.
The suit’s aim is simple: “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,’ states the lawsuit,” it reads.
By shifting the blame on the leaks to a disgruntled staffer within the DNC, The Trump/Russia connection fades. Most of that seems speculative. Ascribing motive to actions only carries so much water. Yet fabricating quotes is a different matter.
“Butowsky and Zimmerman worked together,” the Mail claims, “to attribute to false quotes to Wheeler in the story because ‘that is the way the President wanted the article’.”
Butowsky is also alleged to have sent Wheeler a voice message.
“A couple minutes ago I got a note that we have the full, uh, attention of the White House, on this. And, tomorrow, let’s close this deal, whatever we’ve got to do. But you can feel free to say that the White House is onto this now.”
After the call, Zimmerman added two quotes to the article. “My investigation up to this point shows there was some degree of email exchange between Seth Rich and Wikileaks,” reads one.
“My investigation shows someone within the DC government, Democratic National Committee or Clinton team is blocking the murder investigation from going forward. That is unfortunate. Seth Rich’s murder is unsolved as a result of that.”
The suit claims that Wheeler “has suffered irreparable damage to his reputation and his career will likely never recover.”
Why would these people falsify quotes, push fake news, and otherwise subvert the very nature of the journalistic process? The suit alleges it is “because that is the way the President wanted the article.”
“Zimmerman, Butowsky and Fox had created fake news to advance President Trump’s agenda.”
The story was published, and it made a huge splash. As part of it was made up, and the former Detective to whom the quotes were attributed would have to be discussing them in multiple on-air appearances, Butowsky began coaching him.
“If you can, try to highlight this puts the Russian hacking story to rest,” one text read.
“Just reflecting: we need to emphasize the FBI has a report that has been suppressed that shows that Seth rich did this. With Comey recently being fired this will gain a lot of attention and it’s true,” said another.
All of this revolves around two unanswered questions. Who killed Rich? That is still unsolved. And who orchestrated the DNC hack?