Donald Trump read and approved fake Fox News story, lawsuit claims

The now-retracted story, written by reporter Malia Zimmerman, had suggested Rich was in communication with Wikileaks, implying that he-not Russian hackers-was the source of DNC emails published by the site.

Wheeler, a Fox contributor who looked into Rich's July 2016 murder for the family, was brought into the case by Ed Butowsky, a Texas man and Trump supporter who appeared frequently on Fox, the lawsuit said.

The Fox News Channel and a wealthy supporter of President Trump worked in concert under the watchful eye of the White House to concoct a story about the death of a young Democratic National Committee aide, according to a lawsuit filed Tuesday.

Jay Wallace, president of News for Fox News, said in a statement to USA TODAY: "The accusation that FoxNews.com published Malia Zimmerman's story to help detract from coverage of the Russian Federation collusion issue is completely erroneous".

The Fox News story, which investigated the July 2016 shooting death of Rich, said evidence from his laptop showed he had been in contact with WikiLeaks before it posted hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee. Wheeler's suit claims "Fox News defamed him by manufacturing two false quotations and attributing them to him and ruining his reputation by blaming him as the deceptive story fell apart", NPR writes. The Fox story quoted Wheeler, who was a longtime paid contributor to the network, as a private investigator hunting down the truth behind Rich's murder.

Wheeler claims the night before Zimmerman's story went live, Butowsky emailed Fox News talent like Fox & Friends hosts Steve Doocy, Ainsley Earhardt, and Brian Kilmeade about his role and objectives. But the Washington, D.C. metropolitan police have repeatedly asserted that they have no reason to believe anything like that, and that they still believe the murder to be a simple robbery gone wrong.

He then texts Wheeler to inform him that Trump read Zimmerman's article and wants it published. In the suit, Wheeler also says that Butowsky told him the president had reviewed the story prior to publication and wanted the article published "immediately", he says in the suit.

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During an appearance on Alex Jones' conspiracy theory program, Stone said that officials he has spoken to at the White House are calling the lawsuit "bogus" and that he thinks the lawsuit will be dismissed "summarily". The suit says Zimmerman wanted to remove the contentious quotes, but her bosses at Fox news told her to leave them in the story.

Reached by phone Tuesday morning, Butowsky said he was still reading through the allegations.

According to the complaint, Butowsky, a Dallas-based investor, connected with Wheeler, a former homicide detective, in February, and offered to pay for Wheeler to investigate Rich's murder. "It had nothing to do with advancing the president's domestic agenda - and there was no agenda", Spicer says now.

Wheeler alleges that he was deliberately misquoted on two occasions.

Former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer was indeed aware that Fox News was cooking up a story that would eventually be amplified and twisted into a huge, baseless conspiracy theory.

"The accusation that FoxNews.com published Malia Zimmerman's story to help detract from coverage of the Russian Federation collusion issue is completely erroneous", Fox News President of News Jay Wallace said in an emailed statement. The suit also says that after the story ran, Wheeler agreed to go on Sean Hannity's show on May 16 and did not reveal his misgivings about the story on-air - though he said on the show that he had no direct knowledge of Rich's emails, according to NPR. Others see the hand of the White House guiding things. Wheeler claims both quotes were fabricated and untrue.

May 11 - Zimmerman shares a draft of her story with Wheeler.

  • Megan Austin