A Washington, DC, Fox affiliate report Monday night that a deceased DNC staffer had been in contact with WikiLeaks prior to his murder set conservative media ablaze.
The story poured fresh fuel on a long-simmering wild conspiracy theory — for which there is no evidence — that the Clintons had the staffer, Seth Rich, murdered for leaking DNC emails to Julian Assange's organization. It was based on an interview with a single source, a private investigator named Rod Wheeler who, the article said, had been hired by the Rich family to investigate the crime.
Tuesday morning, though, the Rich family rejected the report and told BuzzFeed News through a spokesman that Wheeler had been "paid for by a third party" and was contractually "barred from speaking to press" without permission from the family.
Wheeler then told CNN that he didn't personally have evidence of Rich contacting WikiLeaks at all.
So who is Rod Wheeler, what do we know about him, and what is his relationship to the Riches?
Wheeler is a former homicide detective for the DC Metropolitan Police Department, who, per his LinkedIn, has been a contributor to Fox News since 2002. And it was through his television appearances that he was ultimately put in contact with the Rich family, through a fellow Fox News contributor named Ed Butowsky.
Butowsky, a prominent wealth manager from Dallas and a contributor to Breitbart News who attended President Trump's inauguration, told BuzzFeed News that he reached out to the Rich family after hearing about the Clinton-Rich conspiracy theory from a friend.
"They said they didn’t feel they were getting any answers," Butowsky said. "The investigation wasn’t going anywhere. I said, 'Why don’t you hire a private detective?' They said they didn’t have any money."
Butowsky said he offered to pay for a private investigator, and called Wheeler. There, he said, his involvement ended.
"They negotiated something," Butowsky said. "In their contract it said any money Rod is going to bill, Butowsky is going to pay. But Rod Wheeler has never billed me a penny. Nobody has ever paid anybody anything."
Beyond his involvement in the Rich case, Wheeler is mostly known for saying outrageous things on air. In 2007, in reference to a controversy over racial profiling and policing, Wheeler pulled his eyes back on air to demonstrate what "a Chinese male" looks like. And in the same year, on Bill O'Reilly's show, Wheeler said that a "national underground network" of armed lesbians were raping girls.
In addition to his private detective business, Capital Investigations, Wheeler is also, according to his LinkedIn, the CEO and founder of the Global Food Defense Institute. ("Food defense," per the website of the FDA, focuses on "the risk of criminal or terrorist actions on the food supply.")
But it's Wheeler's experience in the DC police department that seems to have qualified him to investigate the Rich case. In the Fox story, Wheeler said that a source within the department told him that they were ordered to "stand down" on the Rich investigation, and that it was "confirmed" that Rich was in contact with WikiLeaks.
Calling Wheeler's allegations "unfounded," a spokesperson for the MPD said that Wheeler had been employed by the department from 1990 to 1995 and that he was "dismissed from the agency."
It's unclear what prompted Wheeler to speak to Fox, but earlier today, the Rich family denied having seen the investigator's report in a statement:
"We see no facts, we have seen no evidence, we have been approached with no emails and only learned about this when contacted by the press."
BuzzFeed News called a cell phone number appearing to belong to Wheeler and the number of the Global Food Defense Institute, which both had full mailboxes.
Joe Bernstein is a senior technology reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York. Bernstein reports on and writes about the gaming industry and web culture.
Contact Joseph Bernstein at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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