Parents of Seth Rich Sue Fox News, Ed Butowsky Over 2017 Story About His Murder

Joel and Mary Rich talk about their lawsuit on ABC News.

The parents of Seth Rich filed a lawsuit on Tuesday against Fox News, a Fox news reporter, and a wealthy Texas businessman over their roles in a story purporting that Rich was the source for Democratic Nation Committee emails leaked to WikiLeaks.

The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York and seeks compensation for "mental anguish and emotional distress, emotional pain and suffering, and any other physical and mental injuries."

"No parent should ever have to live through what we have been forced to endure," Joel and Mary Rich said in a statement Tuesday night. "The pain and anguish that comes from seeing your murdered son's life and legacy treated as a mere political football is beyond comprehension."

The lawsuit alleges that Fox News reporter Malia Zimmerman worked with Ed Butowsky, the Texas businessman, to concoct a "sham" story about Rich's death that Fox News published in May 2017 and reported on air multiple times.

The Rich family has always denied that their son was the source of the leaked emails from the DNC and Hillary Clinton campaign manager John Podesta, but Butowsky, who reached out to to the family months after Rich's murder, says they told him otherwise.

Butowsky, a former senior vice president at Morgan Stanley and a frequent Fox Business Network guest, claims he approached Joel and Mary Rich, who live in Omaha, Neb., in December of 2016 with a tip he had gotten about their son being the WikiLeaks source.

Butowsky told PJ Media in a phone conversation that Rich's parents said, "Ed, we've known that since July -- that's nothing new."  He claimed that Rich's parents and brother Aaron were interested in finding out who murdered their son, but for various reasons, they didn't want his alleged role in the WikiLeaks caper to get out.

He apparently respected that wish in an interview with CNN in August of 2017. When asked by host Chris Cuomo what he said to the Rich family when he reached out to them, Butowsky replied that he had shared the information he'd heard about their son and WikiLeaks. Asked what their reaction was, Butowsky answered that Rich's parents told him they didn't believe him.

Now he's changed his story. Former Admiral James Lyons first reported the turnaround in an op-ed at the Washington Times on March 1.

According to Ed Butowsky, an acquaintance of the family, in his discussions with Joel and Mary Rich, they confirmed that their son transmitted the DNC emails to Wikileaks.

Since then, the DNC hired a “spokesperson,” Brad Burman, a known hatchet man to basically cut off any further communications with Mr. Rich’s parents. Interestingly, it is well known in the intelligence circles that Seth Rich and his brother, Aaron Rich, downloaded the DNC emails and was paid by Wikileaks for that information.

Butowsky confirmed to PJ Media that he was the source of this information.

He said he offered to pay for a private detective for the Rich family back in December of 2016 because they had expressed frustration with how the D.C. police investigation was going. The Riches declined his offer at the time, Butowsky said.

Five days after Trump's inauguration, Butowsky, following up on a lead, spoke with legendary investigative reporter Seymour Hersh by phone.

Butowsky recorded the call and posted portions of it online.

In the audio, Hersh can be heard telling Butowsky that he knew "somebody on the inside" at the FBI who was willing to "go and read a file for me."

"This person is unbelievably accurate and careful," Hersh said in the recording. "He’s a very high-level guy and he’ll do a favor. You’re just going to have to trust me."

He told Butowsky that the FBI cyber unit from the Washington, D.C., field office was given Rich's computer to examine after the D.C. police had no luck getting inside.

"So, um, on the same warrant, they call in the feds. The feds get through, and this is what they find," Hersh said.  "This is according to the FBI report."

Hersh went on to point out that there are no leaked DNC or Podesta emails that exist beyond May 22. "May 21st, May 22nd is the last email from either one of those groups," he said, adding that Rich made contact with WikiLeaks in the late spring or early summer. Hersh is heard saying in the recording:

So, they found what he’d done. He had submitted a series of documents, of emails. Some juicy emails from the DNC, and you know, by the way, all this sh*t about the DNC... um...  you know, whether it was hacked or wasn’t hacked -- whatever happened -- the Democrats themselves wrote this sh*t, you know what I mean? All I know is that he [Seth Rich] offered a sample, an extensive sample -- you know, I’m sure dozens of emails and said, "I want money."

Then later WikiLeaks did get the password, he had a Dropbox, a protected Dropbox, which isn’t hard to do. I mean, you don’t have to be a wizard IT, you know. He was certainly not a dumb kid. They got access to the Dropbox. He also, and this is also in the FBI report, he also let people know with whom he was dealing, and I don’t know how he dealt -- I’ll tell you about WikiLeaks in a second -- I don’t know how he dealt with the WikiLeaks and the mechanism but he also... the word was passed according to the NSA report, "I’ve also shared this box with a couple of friends so if anything happens to me it’s not going to solve your problem."

Hersh, nevertheless, told Butowsky that he thought Rich was probably murdered in a botched robbery attempt, as the police were saying.

He had harsh words for some Obama-era leaders in the intelligence community: "I can tell you right now Brennan is an asshole," he said. "Uh, I’ve known all these people for years. Clapper is sort of a better guy, but not a rocket scientist. The NSA guy’s a f*cking moron," he added, meaning NSA director Mike Rogers.

The legendary journalist told Butowsky, "I have a narrative of how that whole f*cking thing began [the Russia collusion narrative]. It’s a Brennan operation, it was an American disinformation and f*cking the f*cking president."

In an interview with NPR last summer, Hersh walked back what he said in the phone call, reportedly claiming he was only "fishing for information from Butowsky."

"I did not talk to anybody at the FBI — not about this," Hersh told NPR. "Nothing is certain until it's proved. And I didn't publish any story on this."

PJ Media reached out to Hersh for comment and he was more than happy to explain. "I was talking heuristically," he said, meaning he was creating a narrative as a means of furthering the investigation. Hersh said that he had a good source, but not someone at the FBI who had looked at the file. He explained that there were important parts of the conversation that were missing in the tape that would have made that clear.

Hersh remains skeptical, however, that Russia hacked into the DNC. When asked why he thinks the entire government -- including the Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee -- have concluded that Russia was WikiLeaks' source, he answered, "because they're assholes."

In January of 2017, Butowsky says he shared the Hersh tape with the Rich family. He credits it with helping him to convince them to accept his offer to pay for a private eye to crack the case. The Rich family says in their lawsuit that he lied to them to win their trust.

Butowsky consulted with friends and associates -- including some people associated with Fox News -- for suggestions about whom to hire. Ultimately, he settled on Rod Wheeler, a former Washington, D.C., homicide detective who has been a paid Fox News contributor since 2005.

According to the NPR, Butowsky then introduced Wheeler to Fox News reporter Malia Zimmerman and the three kept in contact about developments in the story.

Wheeler has since filed a defamation and racial discrimination lawsuit against Fox News for allegedly misquoting him and concocting the Seth Rich story with Butowsky in an effort to help the president.

Wheeler also alleges in the lawsuit that Fox News discriminated against him on the basis of his race by giving him less money and airtime than his white colleagues, a claim that the network denies. Wheeler has since dropped the discrimination claim.

His lawyer, New York-based Douglas Wigdor, is known as "the Trump-loving lawyer who won't stop suing Fox News."

In less than a year, Mr. Wigdor "has filed 11 actions against Fox News, in three different courts in New York City, making claims of defamation, sexual harassment and racial discrimination on behalf of 24 individual plaintiffs," according to the New York Times.

Whatever his conservative "Trump-loving" credentials may be, the counselor really seems to have it out for Fox News.

Butowsky vehemently denies that he coordinated with the White House to concoct the Seth Rich story and pointed to a website, Debunking Rod Wheeler's Claims, to learn the truth about the case.

The amiable Texan does admit that he visited the White House to brief then-White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer about what he had discovered.

He told PJ Media that Wheeler tagged along with him because the detective was hoping to get a job with the Trump White House. (A lawyer from Wigdor's law firm denies this.) He said he wanted to clue the White House in on the Seth Rich story because it blew up the phony Russia narrative, but since Spicer wasn't interested in the story, they spent most of their time talking about other things -- including shirts -- because they happened to get their shirts from the same place.

He claims that his offer to pay for a private eye for the Riches was done out of a desire to help the grieving parents find the person who murdered their son -- not for political reasons. Butowsky, however, has also made clear that he believes the Seth Rich narrative undercuts the question of Russian collusion with the Trump campaign.

In a longer version of his taped conversation with Seymour Hersh obtained by NPR, Butowsky says: "The most important thing is this... So many people throughout Trump's four years, maybe eight years, are always going to fall back on the idea that he's not legitimate, and the Russians got him elected. This changes all of that."

Butowsky told PJ Media that his only regret in the whole episode was that he taped his telephone conversation with Hersh and released the audio online.

PJ Media reached out to the Rich family on Monday for comment on Butowsky's claims but did not get a response. They filed the lawsuit on Tuesday.

Leonard A. Gail, a lawyer representing the Riches, said in a statement: “Joel and Mary Rich have brought this case to hold Fox News, Fox reporter Zimmerman, and political operative and Fox News contributor Butowsky, accountable for their reprehensible actions. Whether motivated by party politics, ratings, corporate profit, or personal gain, we hope to help prevent this kind of malicious and reckless behavior in the future so that others can be spared the hell the Riches have had to endure."

In an interview with ABC News, Butowsky called the lawsuit "one of the dumbest" he'd ever seen. “Mr. and Mrs. Rich should come forward and be honest with people,” he said, adding that he's reached out to them repeatedly to tell what he claims to be the truth.

“Nobody’s benefited from anything," he added. "To file a lawsuit to say that anybody has benefited just smells weird.”

Butowsky told PJ Media that there was no basis at all for what he called a "frivolous lawsuit."

"I did not participate in writing, developing the article they are referencing," he said.