A Texas-based wealth advisor and former Fox News guest apologized to the brother of slain Democratic National Committee (DNC) staffer Seth Rich via Twitter on Wednesday afternoon.
Those tweets were posted by pro-Trump activist Ed Butowsky and are suspected to be part of a settlement agreement reached in a long-running series of defamation lawsuits filed by various members of the Rich family. The posts have since been deleted but screenshots of the messages were preserved by Law&Crime.
“During 2017 and 2018 I made a number of comments stating or implying that Aaron Rich, the brother of Seth Rich who was tragically murdered in July 2016, had been involved in downloading and transferring emails from the DNC to WikiLeaks and receiving payment in exchange,” Butowsky wrote in one of the three tweets.
“I never had physical proof to back up any such statements or suggestions, which I now acknowledge I should not have made,” the second and third tweets note. “Accordingly, I now retract and apologize for any statement I have made asserting or implying that Aaron Rich downloaded or transferred DNC emails to WikiLeaks or received payment in exchange. I take full responsibility for my comments and I apologize for any pain I have caused. I sincerely hope the Rich family is able to find out who murdered their son and bring this tragic chapter in their lives to a close.”
Butowsky is a GOP donor and was formerly a frequent Fox News guest.
He is widely believed to be the impetus behind the conservative cable news network’s since-retracted story that lent credence to a baseless conspiracy theory pushed by the far-right which posited that Seth Rich was killed at the age of 27 in Washington, D.C. over his alleged connection to the 2016 DNC email scandal.
On May 17, 2017, Fox published a story by Malia Zimmerman story titled, “Seth Rich, slain DNC staffer, had contact with WikiLeaks, say multiple sources.”
Less than a week later, the story was retracted and Fox News issued a statement in its place saying the piece “was not initially subjected to the high degree of editorial scrutiny we require for all our reporting” and had “since been removed.”
In a popular version of the never substantiated story, Rich provided WikiLeaks with a tranche of damaging DNC emails and was subsequently gunned down to keep quiet. The particulars never quite made sense–either logically or in evidentiary terms–but the smoke generated by the claims were of a piece with the far-right’s understanding of how the world apparently works.
Following that egg-faced retraction, multiple interested parties filed a series of lawsuits, counter-claims and cross-claims–one of which was a high-profile legal battle before the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York naming Fox News as a defendant. A separate–though factually related–lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia by Aaron Rich.
Another substantially similar lawsuit was filed by Rich’s brother against Butowsky in California.
The lawsuits filed by Aaron Rich have yet to be settled, however, suggesting that speculation over the since-deleted apology posts are likely related to those still-pending actions. Another possibility is that Butowsky is simply looking to limit his liability. One straightforward aspect of defamation law is that an alleged defamer can lessen their potential culpability and punishment by way of a public retraction.
Editor’s Note: this story’s headline and lede were updated post-publication to make clear that Mr. Butowsky’s apology tweets addressed statements he made about Aaron Rich, not Seth Rich.
[image via Jemal Countess/Getty Images]
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