An explosive new lawsuit filed Tuesday alleges that the Trump White House reviewed and signed off on a bogus Fox News story that claimed murdered Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich had been in direct contact with WikiLeaks.
NPR reports that the lawsuit was filed against Fox News by Rod Wheeler, a longtime Fox contributor who was quoted in a Fox story about his so-called "investigation" into the Rich murder.
In the original report, Wheeler was quoted as saying he "absolutely" found evidence that Rich had been in contact with WikiLeaks in the weeks before the website published stolen DNC emails that U.S. intelligence agencies believe were stolen by Russian hackers.
However, Wheeler's lawsuit alleges that the Fox reporter behind the story, Malia Zimmerman, fabricated these quotes in her story. Additionally, Wheeler's lawsuit claims that the story was originally concocted to help take heat off the White House, which has been struggling to contain assorted scandals related to the Trump campaign's contacts with Russian officials during the 2016 election.
The most explosive allegation in the story, however, is that the Trump White House reviewed the contents of the Fox News article on the Seth Rich conspiracy before it was published.
"On April 20, a month before the story ran, [wealthy Trump supporter Ed] Butowsky and Wheeler... met at the White House with then Press Secretary Sean Spicer to brief him on what they were uncovering," NPR reports. "The first page of the lawsuit quotes a voicemail and text from Butowsky boasting that President Trump himself had reviewed drafts of the Fox News story just before it went to air and was published."
The Butowsky text in question tells Wheeler that "the president just read the article" and "he wants it out immediately."
Fox News president Jay Wallace strongly denied the validity of Wheeler's lawsuit.
"The accusation that FoxNews.com published Malia Zimmerman’s story to help detract from coverage of the Russia collusion issue is completely erroneous," he said. "The retraction of this story is still being investigated internally and we have no evidence that Rod Wheeler was misquoted by Zimmerman. Additionally, Fox News vehemently denies the race discrimination claims in the lawsuit — the dispute between Zimmerman and Rod Wheeler has nothing to do with race."
The full text of the lawsuit follows below.