The Russian Embassy in London has joined in the speculation surrounding the unsolved murder of Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich. On Friday, the embassy tweeted an image featuring Rich and Hillary Clinton in the background, with text saying, “Who Killed Seth Rich?” The tweet also says, “#WikiLeaks informer Seth Rich murdered in US but MSM [mainstream media] was so busy accusing Russian hackers to take notice.”
Rich, 27, was shot and killed on July 10, 2016, as he was walking home from a bar in Washington, D.C. Police found him still in possession of his credit cards, wallet and phone, and believe the murder was a botched robbery. On July 22, WikiLeaks released 44,053 emails and 17,761 attachments belonging to the DNC. Because Rich had worked for the committee, people on the political right speculated that Rich had been behind the leak, and that the DNC or Clinton may have arranged his murder. The offer of a reward by WikiLeaks for information that helps solve the case, and comments by WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, increased the speculation.
The Russian Embassy’s tweet comes days after Rod Wheeler, a private investigator working on behalf of Rich’s family, told a Fox affiliate there was evidence that Rich had communicated with WikiLeaks. A day later, on Tuesday, Fox News reported that a “federal investigator” had corroborated Wheeler’s account, and that an FBI analysis of Rich’s computer showed he had transferred the 44,053 emails and 17,761 attachments to Gavin MacFadyen, a man who had ties to WikiLeaks before he died last October.
But Newsweek learned that the FBI is not investigating the case, casting doubt on the Fox News report and the claims by the “federal investigator.” And in interviews with Newsweek and other outlets, Wheeler, the private investigator, seemed to walk back his earlier comments. “I’ve never, ever seen Seth Rich’s computer, nor have I talked with the federal investigator,” he wrote in a message to Newsweek on Tuesday. “I think it is likely that there is information on the computer that can assist us in the investigation,” he said, “but short of that, I have nothing firsthand.” On Wednesday, he told Newsweek he did not think the FBI was involved.
Refet Kaplan, managing director of Fox News Digital, said in a statement on Wednesday, “We continue to track developments in the story and will update further when the situation warrants.” A spokesperson for the network did not immediately respond to a request for an updated comment on Friday.
On Wednesday night, the Fox affiliate that had published the initial report quoting Wheeler issued an “important clarification.” The affiliate said Wheeler’s comments on Monday were “in clear contrast” to what he had said in subsequent interviews.
London’s Russian Embassy is known for tweeting on matters outside of diplomacy and drawing from what has in the United States become right-wing imagery and rhetoric. The embassy has posted the image of Pepe the Frog, which the Anti-Defamation League considers a hate symbol, and it has referred to articles by mainstream outlets such as The Economist, The Times of London and The Guardian as “fake news.” Friday’s tweet appears to be the embassy’s first time posting about Rich. Within two hours, the tweet garnered hundreds of retweets, including by Twitter users who have posted favorably about President Donald Trump.
In April, The Guardian reported that Deputy Ambassador Alexander Kramarenko was likely behind some of the controversial posts. The embassy has declined to comment on that allegation and has said its posts were the result of a “collaborative effort,” according to The Washington Post.
The Russian government has previously used state-affiliated media to “denigrate” Clinton, according to a declassified report that U.S. intelligence officials published in January. Such efforts during the 2016 presidential election were part of a campaign that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered to influence the outcome, the report said. The FBI is investigating the scope of Russia’s meddling in the election and possible collusion with members of the Trump campaign.
The origin of the image in Friday’s tweet was not immediately clear. It appears in a post on the website Cosmoso published July 13, 2016, and it later circulated on Reddit and conservative websites and Twitter accounts.
In response to the tweet, Brad Bauman, a spokesman for Rich’s family, wrote in an emailed statement, “I think all Americans know at this point they can’t trust Russian attempts at manipulating the facts surrounding Seth Rich, who spent his life working in public service because of his love for our country.”