Special counsel Robert Mueller’s report, released on Thursday, raises a lot of new questions — but in one section, in just under 320 words, it answered another one, putting to rest one of the most harmful political conspiracy theories in recent memory.
The report definitively disproved the notion that a Democratic National Committee staffer named Seth Rich was the source of leaked DNC documents later published by WikiLeaks, and that his July 2016 murder came as the result of his decision to leak those documents to WikiLeaks.
This wasn’t true, although Trump associates like Jerome Corsi, Roger Stone, and countless others, have argued vehemently for years that it was. And WikiLeaks, and its founder Julian Assange, knew it.
On July 10, 2016, shortly before the DNC emails were released, Seth Rich was shot to death about a block from his home in the Bloomingdale neighborhood of Washington, DC, in what police believe to be a botched robbery attempt.
As made clear multiple times over the last three years by journalists and investigators, even by some of Trump’s closest confidantes, the 44,000 leaked DNC emails made public 12 days after Rich’s murder were stolen by hackers associated with Russian intelligence outfits. And as the Mueller report details, these hacks resulted in DNC emails and documents being shared widely. WikiLeaks, founded by Julian Assange in 2006, published both stolen DNC emails and the results of a later hack of Hillary Clinton campaign chair John Podesta’s emails in 2016.
But Rich’s murder became a focal point for conspiracy theorists, egged on by Assange himself, who, as Mueller’s report details, repeatedly and falsely implied that Rich had been the source of the DNC emails. Assange even told then-Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher that he had “physical proof” that the hack was an “inside job.” The implication was that the leaks were from Rich, who was then, according to conspiracy theorists like Kim Dotcom, murdered because of them.
On page 48 of the Mueller report, the special counsel’s office is clear about what really happened. The evidence showed that Wikileaks got the DNC emails and Podesta’s internal documents from Russian hackers, but WikiLeaks and Assange repeatedly lied on national television and implied Rich was involved:
Beginning in the summer of 2016, Assange and WikiLeaks made a number of statements about Seth Rich, a former DNC staff member who was killed in July 2016. The statements about Rich implied falsely that he had been the source of the stolen DNC emails. On August 9, 2016, the @WikiLeaks Twitter account posted: “ANNOUNCE: WikiLeaks has decided to issue a US$20k reward for information leading to conviction for the murder ofDNC staffer Seth Rich.” Likewise, on August 25, 2016, Assange was asked in an interview, “Why are you so interested in Seth Rich’s killer?” and responded, “We’re very interested in anything that might be a threat to alleged Wikileaks sources.” The interviewer responded to Assange’s statement by commenting, “I know you don’t want to reveal your source, but it certainly sounds like you’re suggesting a man who leaked information to WikiLeaks was then murdered.” Assange replied, “If there’s someone who’s potentially connected to our publication, and that person has been murdered in suspicious circumstances, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the two are connected. But it is a very serious matter … that type of allegation is very serious, as it’s taken very seriously by us.”
In short, Seth Rich had absolutely nothing to do with how WikiLeaks got leaked DNC and Podesta emails. Yet both WikiLeaks and its founder repeatedly argued the contrary, despite the Rich family’s desperate pleas for them and others pushing the theory to stop.
In a statement provided to Vox by Seth Rich’s brother, Aaron (who is also pursuing lawsuits regarding the conspiracy theory) said of the Mueller report:
“The special counsel has now provided hard facts that demonstrate this conspiracy is false. I hope that the people who pushed, fueled, spread, ran headlines, articles, interviews, talk and opinion shows, or in any way used my family’s tragedy to advance their political agendas—despite our pleas that what they were saying was not based on any facts—will take responsibility for the unimaginable pain they have caused us. We will continue to pursue justice for Seth’s murderers, as well as those who used his murder to advance their personal or political agendas by advancing false conspiracy theories.”
And Brad Bauman, a former spokesperson for the Rich family whose own role in the case became grist for conspiracy theorist websites like Infowars, said in a statement to Vox:
“Assange did untold damage to a grieving family in order to try and hide his work with Russian intelligence to destabilize American democracy. In the process he misled hundreds of thousands of Americans who are just trying to make sense of our country in difficult and complicated times. Yesterday’s report proved he is a monster, not a journalist, and I hope that’s not lost in the ongoing debate around his recent arrest.”