The murder of Democratic National Committee employee Seth Rich in July 2016 set off a frenzy of speculation, all related to the claim from Hillary Clinton’s presidential election campaign that WikiLeaks’ release of thousands of DNC emails was the result of Russian hacking. Unfortunately for the political Left, its handling of Rich’s murder over the years has kept its mysteries alive, such that they become ripe for reexamination.
Here is some background: Rich, a 27-year-old DNC staffer, was murdered in the early morning hours of July 10, 2016, shot twice in the back. The police quickly wrote off the killing as a bungled robbery.
On July 22, 2016, a large cache of purloined DNC emails was published by Julian Assange’s WikiLeaks, embarrassing to the Clinton campaign because they showed the DNC had rigged the nomination in favor of Hillary and against Bernie Sanders, darling of the Progressive Left. Defection of Sanders voters, she knew, could cost her the election.
To divert attention, the Clinton Campaign immediately blamed the release on Russian “hacking,” while connecting it to Donald Trump’s weakening of a Republican platform plank against Russian aggression in Ukraine. The seed was being planted for Trump-Russian collusion, a highly successful canard later swallowed whole by a credulous media.
This claim gave birth to a natural response among commonsense conservatives and independents. Perhaps this wasn’t an external “hack” at all, but an internal leak, instigated either by Rich or an associate, and perhaps Rich was killed in retaliation. Or so the hypothesis went.
While far from conclusive, there were three inalterable facts that kept minds open: 1) Rich’s wallet, phone, and $2,000 necklace were not taken; 2) Assange strongly hinted that Rich was a source, while offering a reward, and adamantly stating that Russia was not a source; and 3) the DNC refused to produce its server to the FBI for forensic examination, which would have shown conclusively whether this was an external hack or internal leak.
Unfortunately for those questioning the Russian hack story, aggressive reporters got out over their skis. The Rich family detective, Rod Wheeler, originally suggested that Rich had been in touch with WikiLeaks. After the family became irate with Wheeler, he backtracked, blaming the story on a suggestion from a Fox News reporter. Overeager reporters also latched on to a story that 53,000 emails had been found on Rich’s computer, which turned out to be based on a phony document. With egg on their faces, aggressive journalists retreated.
These flubs allowed the anti-Trump media to jump all over the Rich email hypothesis, yelling that it was “bonkers” and a “conspiracy theory.” Even though this false start was embarrassing, it did not rule out the possibility of a Rich leak of the DNC emails, which, in turn, would pierce the heart of Russian hacking story, which later morphed into “Russian collusion.”
Soon, in May 2017, FBI Director Comey was fired amid screams of Trump obstruction of justice. Robert Mueller was quickly appointed special counsel. Anti-Trumpers were certain the relentless ex-Marine would prove “Russian collusion,” based largely on this supposed Russian “hack.”
Mueller, however, did not deal in any detail with the evidence, either pro or con, of a possible Rich leak. Instead, the Mueller team relied on the “assessment” of the U.S. intelligence community that Russia was “behind the hacking operation.” Given that Obama’s intelligence community did not have the DNC server, it could only make an “assessment”—in essence nothing more than a biased anti-Trump opinion.
Oddly, Mueller never answered the question suggested earlier by Wheeler: Did Rich’s computer show any communication with a WikiLeaks agent? Even more puzzling to the informed audience, the highly aggressive Mueller never subpoenaed the DNC server, which would have put all questions to rest.
This dramatic failure of Mueller, then, kept the internal leak theory alive.
Little-noticed during the special counsel’s ballyhooed assault on Trump was a rigorously researched report by a group known as VIPS. VIPS, composed of highly credentialed, experienced former national security and cyber experts, had been very respected in leftist circles for its disciplined takedown of the intelligence in the leadup of the Iraq War, and for other left-leaning positions. Its report about DNC emails was published in the far left, socialist-leaning, Trump-hating Nation magazine.
The VIPS report impressively showed the high probability that the DNC emails published by WikiLeaks were the result, not of an external hack, but of an internal leak.
VIPS noted that the high speeds of download were consistent with an internal leak through a device like a thumb drive, impossible speeds for slow-progressing hacks. Further, it was clear that someone had tampered with published emails to falsely insert Russian “fingerprints” on them.
Another nonconservative shoe dropped in late 2019, half a year after the Mueller Report. The “primary subsource” for the Steele dossier, as reported by reputable Inspector General Michael Horowitz, was one Igor Danchenko, a suspected Russian spy. Horowitz revealed that in January 2017, the FBI had learned from Danchenko that he had based his sourcing for “Russian collusion” on talk “over beers,” which was largely “speculation,” “gossip,” and “hearsay.” That the Russians had helped Trump by hacking DNC emails was thus apocryphal nonsense. It was now difficult to believe that Putin was in collusion with Trump, when Putin’s close associates were accusing Trump of criminal conduct.
Another boost to the revival of the “internal leak” theory came, surprisingly, from the partisan, virulently anti-Trump CIA Director John Brennan, who for years had publicized the Trump-Russian conspiracy in public statements. But behind closed doors, out of the limelight, the notes of his intelligence findings, declassified in September 2020, dramatized an opposite story.
Brennan’s notes of July 26, 2016, five days before “Crossfire Hurricane” was opened, were the basis for his Oval Office briefing of July 28, 2016, where FBI Director James Comey was also present. In essence, the CIA had learned from trusted intelligence sources that the Clinton campaign was scheming to “divert attention” from her email woes by blaming pro-Trump Russian electoral interference. On September 7, 2016, the CIA sent a written investigative referral of the Clinton plot to Comey.
Unfortunately again for the Left, there was more, again from a principled, leftist source, famed investigative reporter Seymour Hersh. Hersh was recorded saying what he had discovered about the “Russian hack” theory, which he had already sensed was “hokum.”
Hersh learned much from his longtime friend, a completely reliable “senior intelligence official,” who in turn received information from a reliable high official with access to FBI reporting, that Rich’s computer showed that he had been in contact with WikiLeaks and was seeking payment for the DNC emails.
Finally, Hersh, no lover of Trump, dropped an unexpected bombshell: He had reason to believe that the American intelligence community, led by Brennan, itself had started a disinformation program pointing to Russia and Trump.
Moreover, in a case filed in Texas by Brian Huddleston, a private citizen, the FBI was forced to admit it did in fact have documents on Rich. It had produced only 68 pages as of April 23, 2021, with 1,093 admitted pages yet to be produced. But in one of these long-withheld documents, the FBI said this about Rich’s murder: “given [redacted] it is conceivable that an individual or group would want to pay for his death.”
Thus, the more that comes out, the more plausible the “leak” theory becomes, and the more sinister the Clinton campaign and Comey appear to have been.
Accordingly, the hypothesis still alive is that Seth Rich was murdered, not in retaliation, but in prevention, of testimony by the one live witness who could single-handedly dismantle the “Russian collusion” fable which promised to sweep Clinton into the White House.