Earlier this week, a private investigator named Rod Wheeler—whose last big case was promoting a hoax about a national underground network of lesbian gangs—announced that he had evidence that the late Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich, who was murdered last year in Washington, D.C., was in contact with WikiLeaks and transferred them over 40,000 DNC emails. That year WikiLeaks released hacked emails from DNC employees.
Fox’s local Washington, D.C. affiliate ran the story with an interview with Wheeler, despite the fact that Rich’s family had asked him not to speak with the media and rejected his findings as not credible.
Wheeler said that he didn’t actually see any emails or even Rich’s computer, but simply heard about this bombshell evidence from an anonymous federal investigator.
Then Wheeler admitted that he never spoke to the investigator.
“I only got that [information] from the reporter at Fox News,” Wheeler said in an interview with CNN.
The FBI similarly rejected Wheeler’s claims, with one law enforcement official telling NBC News that Rich’s laptop “never contained any emails related to WikiLeaks.”
Even as the story collapsed, conspiracy theorists ran with it—especially Fox News, where hosts like Sean Hannity and Lou Dobbs trumpeted Wheeler’s work as proof that Russia was not behind the DNC hack and that the Democratic Party is complicit in murder.
As we’ve noted, Wheeler is both a vocal Trump supporter and a Fox News analyst and his “investigation” was paid for by a fellow Fox News pundit.
Days after Wheeler conceded that he had absolutely no evidence to back up his story, conservative outlets are still obsessed with it.
Last night, Hannity hosted Jay Sekulow of the American Center for Law and Justice, and the two pushed the baseless claim that Rich was murdered over his purported links with WikiLeaks. Hannity never found the time to mention that Wheeler, who was his guest on Tuesday, had retracted.
Alex Jones of InfoWars was similarly confident of the merits of Wheeler’s since-recanted account.
Jones, the far-right broadcaster notorious for pushing dozens of bizarre conspiracy theories, initially suggested that Wheeler “got in the laptop” that Rich was using.
Yesterday Jones interviewed radio host Doug Hagmann, who also falsely claimed that Wheeler had evidence that Rich was in touch with WikiLeaks.
Jones declared that “we have federal investigators and others saying they’ve seen the emails,” and Hagmann cited Wheeler’s hoax story as proof that Russia never hacked the DNC: “There was no hacking. It was merely a transfer of data from, in my professional opinion from what I’ve seen, the DNC staffer, Seth Rich, he took that information from the DNC and given it, via his connections, his contacts, to [Julian] Assange.”
“The FBI has and the D.C. police have the forensic evidence to tie WikiLeaks to Seth Rich,” Hagmann claimed.
At no point did either Jones or Hagmann mention that Wheeler retracted his remarks, but Hagmann did find the time to hail Wheeler as “a great investigator” and attack Wheeler’s critics as the “enemies of the truth.”
“Rod Wheeler did speak with a federal source who said, ‘I had eyes on the computer, I can verify as a matter of fact that this was connected to WikiLeaks,’” he said.
Actually, Wheeler told Newsweek that he did not speak with the investigator: “In a message to Newsweek on Tuesday, Wheeler said the Fox News report was misleading and that his information was secondhand from that ‘federal investigator.’ ‘I’ve never, ever seen Seth Rich’s computer, nor have I talked with the federal investigator,’ he wrote in a message.”
None of this, it seems, will make it on to InfoWars.