Trump-Tied Pastor Pushes Debunked Seth Rich Conspiracy Theory

On Friday’s episode of “The Jim Bakker Show,” Texas pastor Ramiro Peña alleged that the late Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich was the one who transferred thousands of DNC emails to WikiLeaks, citing a retracted Fox News story and a self-identified private investigator named Rod Wheeler, who has since recanted his claims.

Peña claimed that Rich, who was murdered last year in Washington, D.C., was behind the massive leak and it “was not a hack by the Russians.” He said that the news that Trump had revealed highly classified information to Russian officials during a White House meeting was “fake news” meant to distract from the finding that Rich was “assassinated” as part of a DNC cover-up.

Peña, a Donald Trump campaign booster and a member of the president’s National Hispanic Advisory Council, cited Wheeler and Fox News to back up his contention, despite the fact that both Fox News and Wheeler, the supposed investigator, retracted their stories. Ironically, Peña repeatedly said “shame on you, media” while pushing his debunked claims on Bakker’s show.

Several conservatives, including Sean Hannity, Newt Gingrich, Roger Stone, Jay Sekulow and Alex Jones, have pushed the conspiracy theory ever since Wheeler, a frequent Fox News guest, told Fox’s Washington affiliate that a high-level source in the government had confirmed that Rich transferred the DNC emails to WikiLeaks.

However, Wheeler later said that he never once spoke to any government source or viewed any evidence linking Rich to WikiLeaks, telling Newsweek, “I’ve never, ever seen Seth Rich’s computer, nor have I talked with the federal investigator.” It was also revealed that Wheeler is not actually a licensed private investigator and was being paid by a conservative commentator.

The Rich family has strongly denied Wheeler’s story. In an op-ed for the Washington Post, his parents described how they learned that their son’s death was likely a botched robbery and shared the terrible effect right-wing conspiracy theories have had on their family. While many conservatives baselessly alleged that Rich contacted WikiLeaks because he was a disgruntled Bernie Sanders supporter, his family said that he was considering taking a job with the Hillary Clinton campaign and noted that his DNC job wouldn’t have allowed him such close access to emails belonging to other staffers anyway.

We have seen no evidence, by any person at any time, that Seth’s murder had any connection to his job at the Democratic National Committee or his life in politics. Anyone who claims to have such evidence is either concealing it from us or lying.

Still, conservative news outlets and commentators continue, day after painful day, to peddle discredited conspiracy theories that Seth was killed after having provided WikiLeaks with emails from the DNC. Those theories, which some reporters have since retracted, are baseless, and they are unspeakably cruel.

We know that Seth’s personal email and his personal computer were both inspected by detectives early in the investigation and that the inspection revealed no evidence of any communications with anyone at WikiLeaks or anyone associated with WikiLeaks. Nor did that inspection reveal any evidence that Seth had leaked DNC emails to WikiLeaks or to anyone else. Indeed, those who have suggested that Seth’s role as a data analyst at the DNC gave him access to a wide trove of emails are simply incorrect — Seth’s job was to develop analytical models to encourage voters to turn out to vote. He didn’t have access to DNC emails, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee emails, John Podesta’s emails or Hillary Clinton’s emails. That simply wasn’t his job.

Despite these facts, our family’s nightmare persists. Seth’s death has been turned into a political football. Every day we wake up to new headlines, new lies, new factual errors, new people approaching us to take advantage of us and Seth’s legacy. It just won’t stop. The amount of pain and anguish this has caused us is unbearable. With every conspiratorial flare-up, we are forced to relive Seth’s murder and a small piece of us dies as more of Seth’s memory is torn away from us.