Ex-Clinton Official's Death on Plane Sparks Conspiracy Theories

The death of a former White House staffer who served in both the Clinton and the Obama administrations has been baselessly tied to Hillary Clinton, reviving a long-running conspiracy theory that claims without evidence the Clintons were behind the deaths of several political opponents during their political careers, Newsweek Misinformation Watch found.

Former White House and international development official Dana Hyde died last week after the private business jet she was flying in encountered severe turbulence in New England, according to Connecticut police officials. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) opened an investigation into the incident on Monday.

The 55-year-old was traveling with her husband and one of her sons but was the only person aboard the plane, to be injured and die, including the two flight crew members. The plane is owned by broadband consulting firm Conexon.

During the Clinton presidency, Hyde was a White House special assistant and she served as a senior adviser at the State Department in the Obama administration.

She also acted as counsel to the 9/11 commission, where she served from 2003 to 2004, focussing on crisis management issues and the immediate response of the White House and federal agencies to the attacks.

Hyde's Washington career along with her abrupt death were pounced on by conspiracy theorists, who reignited an existing unevidenced narrative misleadingly tying former President Bill Clinton and former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to the deaths of more than 50 political opponents, officials, or staffers.

Though there's no evidence supporting these claims, the so-called "Clinton body count" conspiracy theory remains an object of fascination in certain online communities, and has been advanced in real life by the likes of Republican Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene and others.

Dana J. Hyde
Dana J. Hyde, pictured above on September 22, 2014 in New York City. Hyde, a former lawyer who worked for both the Clinton and Obama administrations, died last week after the private jet she was traveling in hit severe turbulence. Mike Pont/WireImage

Hyde's death, which is still being investigated by the FBI, was quickly embedded in this conspiracy trope, including by accounts known for sharing misleading—and often far-right linked—content.

"Arkancide ALERT?" tweeted Stew Peters, who has in the past been banned by Twitter for sharing anti-vaccine and conspiracy theorist materials. "Dana Hyde, a prominent official in the Clinton and Obama administrations, died suddenly due to 'severe turbulence'. No other passengers on the private plane were injured."

"REPORT: Clinton Lawyer KILLED IN JET After 'Severe Turbulence'.. CLEARLY THERE IS NOTHING TO SEE HERE..," tweeted Chuck Callesto, a Florida political strategist and former Candidate for Florida's 3rd Congressional District.

A number of posts and articles, including the Callesto tweet, misleadingly included an image of Hillary Clinton with the story, even as no mention of the former Secretary of State was made in the underlying articles about her death.

The combination of the photo and the descriptor "Clinton lawyer" was also somewhat misleading, as it could be interpreted to mean Hyde was Hillary Clinton's (or her husband's) personal lawyer, which is not the case.

Similar Twitter and Reddit posts have since been viewed by hundreds of thousands of users.

One Twitter user wrote that it was "weird" that Hyde was being "erased," sharing a video allegedly showing that the former official's page on the Aspen Institute was not available and gave a 404 error.

However, Newsweek's attempts to replicate the process shown in the Twitter clip were only partially successful. First, Hyde's page on the AllGov website remains in place, although the website itself occasionally fails to load, possibly due to the increased traffic brought to it by the conspiracy posts.

Her page does indeed appear to have been removed from the Aspen Institute website, though notably the URL shown in the clip doesn't appear to be up-to-date (other members of the team are now located in the subsection /people, which incidentally also failed to load repeated-again, possibly due to a spike in traffic).

Her LinkedIn page, likewise, no longer opens, but archive records show the profile was still up as late as Monday, March 6, three days after her death, and appears to have been removed only after conspiracy narratives began to spread.

Other pages featuring Hyde's details or bios, such as those on the Columbia World Projects website or the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) were accessible at the time of publishing.

Newsweek reached out to the Aspen Institute for comment.

Hyde's death and the incident which led to it are currently being investigated by the NTSB, which is looking at "a reported trim issue that occurred prior to the in-flight upset," local media outlets reported Monday.

But none of the public statements by authorities so far mention any evidence of foul play. Nor is there any evidence to support the conspiracy claims linking the incident to the Clinton family.

The plane in which Hyde was flying was traveling from Keene, New Hampshire, to Leesburg Executive Airport in Virginia. It made an emergency landing after hitting turbulence and Hyde was taken to a hospital in Hartford, Connecticut. Her injuries were so severe that she died the same night of the incident.

The Washington Post reported that Hyde's husband Jonathan Chambers, a partner at Conexon, described the incident in an email to the company's employees and clients, saying that "the plane suddenly convulsed in a manner that violently threw the three of us. My wife was badly injured."

"Dana was the best person I ever knew. She was a wonderful mother to our boys and she was accomplished professionally," Chambers said. "She loved and was beloved."

Newsweek has reached out to the Clinton Foundation for comment via email.