A longtime Fox News commentator has sued the network, claiming it used him to deflect attention from investigations about the Trump campaign’s ties with the Russian government by publishing a “fake news” story about the death of former Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich.
Rod Wheeler, who says he has worked as a contributor for Fox News since 2002, claims in the suit that Fox News reporter Malia Zimmerman fabricated quotes from Wheeler with the “knowledge and support” of Ed Butowsky, a wealthy Dallas investor and supporter of President Donald Trump. The lawsuit, which was obtained by Business Insider, also claims that the story garnered the “full … attention of the White House,” including Trump.
Rich, whose July 2016 murder remains under investigation, became the target of numerous right-wing conspiracy theories surrounding his death. In a now-retracted May 16 article, the quotes attributed to Wheeler suggested that Rich had communicated with WikiLeaks prior to his death.
In the lawsuit, Wheeler claims that Butowsky sent him a text message telling him that Trump had “just read the article” and “wants [it] out immediately.” The lawsuit included a photo of what Wheeler says is the text message.
Wheeler claims Butowsky also left him a voicemail that said: “A couple minutes ago I got a note that we have the full, uh, attention of the White House, on this. And, tomorrow, let’s close this deal, whatever we’ve got to do. But you can feel free to say that the White House is onto this now.”
Less than 36 hours later, the article was published. Wheeler claims it included two quotes incorrectly attributed to him:
“Mr. Wheeler was subsequently forced to correct the false record and, as a result, lost all credibility in the eyes of the public. Mr. Wheeler has suffered irreparable damage to his reputation and his career will likely never recover,” the lawsuit says.
Jay Wallace, the president of news at Fox News, told NPR, which first reported the lawsuit, that there was no “concrete evidence” that Robinson misquoted Wheeler.
Fox News didn’t immediately respond to further requests for comment.