A lawsuit has been filed by Rod Wheeler, a former Fox contributor, that alleges that Fox News Channel and Ed Butowsky, a wealthy Trump supporter (who hired Wheeler to investigate the murder — a story involving the alleged murder of the Democratic National Committee aide. The bombshell part of the complaint is an email that states that President Donald Trump wanted the story to air to distract from the Russian investigation.
Wheeler alleges that Fox reporter Malia Zimmerman made up quotes in the story — suggesting that there was evidence of a murder tied to the release of embarrassing information related to Hillary Clinton and the DNC. However, there is no evidence offered to prove the misquotation, though it is not clear if Zimmerman retained her notes from the interview.
Zimmerman wrote on May 16 that Rich “had leaked thousands of internal emails to WikiLeaks,” citing Wheeler’s apparent investigations.
The most notable aspect of the complaint is the text of a May 14th message sent from Butowsky to Wheeler stating “Not to add anymore pressure but the president just read the article. He wants the article out immediately. But don’t feel the pressure.”
Wheeler however also cites a text message in which Butowsky coaches Wheeler on what to say on Fox: “The narrative in the interviews you might use is that your and Malia’s work prove that the Russians didn’t hack into the DNC and steal the emails and impact our election.” That does not sound particularly tongue and cheek.
Sean Spicer has admitted to meeting with Butowsky but insists that it was short and merely a courtesy.
Working against Wheeler is his own interview on Fox with Sean Hannity. He does not appear particularly circumspect about the allegations in the interview. Hannity was known to be more keen on the story than Fox News, which ultimately retracted the story. Fox reportedly struggled with Hannity to tap down the story.
The television interview aired hours after Zimmerman published her story and Hannity asked Wheeler “What did you discover in terms of the contacts with WikiLeaks?” Wheeler responded that “I have never seen the emails myself directly,I haven’t even seen the computer that Seth Rich used. Here’s the problem with all of this: I don’t even know where the computer is.” However, he then added that a “federal investigator” who was “very credible” provided him with information that suggested that “perhaps there were some email communications between Seth and WikiLeaks.” He now maintains that there was no federal investigator and that it was Butowsky and Zimmerman who told him about the federal investigator. However for a jury, the interview shows someone willing to advance what turned out to be a false narrative.
While Wheeler insists that he later regretted his role, he clearly was a willing participant in these interviews. That will make it more difficult to get a jury to believe that he did not make such statements to Zimmerman.
Wheeler, 57, is a former Washington, D.C., homicide detective. He was dismissed in 1995 because, according to his lawyer, his urine tested positive for trace amounts of marijuana.