Private detective Rod Wheeler was hired by the family of slain Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich in 2016 in order to learn what happened the night Rich was murdered.
But after providing an interview with Fox News reporter Malia Zimmerman, Wheeler claimed the subsequent story put words in his mouth that he never said — and that it was all part of plan by Fox News, a wealthy Trump supporter named Ed Butowsky (who recommended Wheeler to the Rich family), and the White House to deflect allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 election.
According to a 2017 New York Times report, Wheelers lawsuit against Fox News, Butowsky, and Zimmerman claimed that Zimmerman knowingly attributed fabricated quotes to him, that the untrue nature of the quotes were known by others at Fox News, and that President Trump himself had read and approved of the article prior to its publication.
The lawsuit, which has since been dismissed, claimed that the players involved sought to “shift the blame from Russia and help put to bed speculation that President Trump colluded with Russia in an attempt to influence the outcome of the presidential election.”
In support of his claim that Trump was not only aware of the story but in on the scheme to deceive the public, Wheeler pointed to a text message and voicemail from Butowsky. The lawsuit claims that a May 14 text message from Butowsky said: “Not to add any more pressure but the president just read the article. He wants the article out immediately. It’s now all up to you. But don’t feel the pressure.”
At the time, then-White House press secretary Sarah Sanders responded to the accusation saying, “The president had no knowledge of the story and it’s completely untrue that he or the White House” had involvement.
Fox News was later forced to retract the story, saying it “was not initially subjected to the high degree of editorial scrutiny we require for all our reporting.”