An audio recording of veteran reporter Seymour Hersh appeared online Tuesday. Seymour Hersh has an inside source at the FBI who told him of a report indicating that deceased DNC staffer Seth Rich contacted WikiLeaks from his computer about the “DNC Leaks.”
The audio recording was posted to account “DeBunking Rod Wheeler,” and promoted by WikiLeaks to counter a bombshell lawsuit claiming that the White House was involved in approving a later retracted Fox News story. The audio post appears to be the work of banker and Republican operative of Benghazi notoriety, Ed Butowsky, who edited the recordings for partisan purposes.
“Mainstream media,” often referred to as MSM, ignores the details of the Seymour Hersh audio recording, simply accepting his response that it is all about “gossip.” MSM has a history of criticizing Seymour Hersh, so it is no wonder that there would be no further inquiry. Nevertheless, MSM silence opens the door for the “narrative” to be dominated by the alternative media (as usual).
While the whole purpose of Republican partisan sites is to promote or defend the Republican Party and attack or ridicule the Democratic Party for political gain, independent sites should know better. Unfortunately, too many do not. Some of these “independent” sites may not be very independent. Too many of the alternative reports jump to overarching conclusions that do not follow.
ANSWERS WILL COME
There are two people right now who could confirm or deny whether Seth Rich was the source of the DNC Leaks:
- Donald Trump’s selected new FBI Director Christopher Wray was just confirmed by Congress. As new head of the FBI, he has the authority to brief the press or even to release any report on Seth Rich.
- Julian Assange or WikiLeaks could simply say whether Seth Rich was the source or not, instead of playing games, as will be covered in detail below.
Those who are demanding answers from Seymour Hersh are right to do so too. Regardless, more information is coming, and we need not jump to big conclusions that do not follow.
CONCLUSIONS DO NOT FOLLOW
The internet is filling with stories by so-called reporters or bloggers proclaiming headlines or content declaring conclusions including:
1. The statements by Seymour Hersh are confirmation,
2. Seth Rich provided the DNC files to WikiLeaks,
3. Claims of Russia hacking the DNC are debunked, and
4. The entire “Russia-gate narrative” is debunked.
None of these conclusions are proven true from the audio recording. Two of these are literally impossible to conclude based on the audio recording. These conclusions are a four-story house of cards. (Readers familiar with the background may jump directly to the analysis of these declarations.)
First, background information including the Fox News reports, lawsuit details and surrounding events timeline, second, tackling the four-story house of cards.
July 10, 2016, Seth Rich was killed in a “botched robbery” according to police. Seth Rich had been working for the DNC. The case is not solved. Since then, many stories have popped up claiming that the DNC killed Seth Rich because he was the source for the “DNC Leaks” revealed by WikiLeaks.
FOX NEWS REPORTS
May 15, 2017, Monday, a local Fox News affiliate publishes a report with a quote from Fox News contributor and private investigator Rod Wheeler. The quote is verified the next day in a television interview:
“I have a source inside the police department that has looked at me straight in the eye and said, ‘Rod, we were told to stand down on this case and I can’t share any information with you.’ Now, that is highly unusual for a murder investigation, especially from a police department. Again, I don’t think it comes from the chief’s office, but I do believe there is a correlation between the mayor’s office and the DNC and that is the information that will come out [Tuesday]. (Brackets in original)
May 16, the national Fox News network picks up the story online, with this additional quote:
“My investigation up to this point shows there was some degree of email exchange between Seth Rich and WikiLeaks,” Wheeler said. “I do believe that the answers to who murdered Seth Rich sits on his computer on a shelf at the DC police or FBI headquarters.”
The local affiliate updates the story to provide “an important clarification” claiming that Rod Wheeler “backtracked.” There is video of Rod Wheeler answering the question, “You have sources at the FBI saying that there is information?” His answer, “Absolutely. Yeah. That’s confirmed.”
May 23, the national Fox News network deletes the story and issues a statement:
On May 16, a story was posted on the Fox News website on the investigation into the 2016 murder of DNC staffer Seth Rich. The article was not initially subjected to the high degree of editorial scrutiny we require for all our reporting. Upon appropriate review, the article was found not to meet those standards and has since been removed. We will continue to investigate this story and will provide updates as warranted.
The Seymour Hersh audio recording was posted to YouTube weeks in advance of a lawsuit where Fox News contributor Rod Wheeler sued the network for making up quotes. Rod Wheeler seeks defamation damages from the company for harming his reputation. This is the legal story.
The Complaint is newsworthy because it reveals a political story. The Complaint alleges that a major news network published an article with false quotes and the White House was involved with reviewing the article. The Complaint reveals a text message from long-time Republican operative Ed Butowky: “Not to add any more pressure but the president just read the article. He wants the article out immediately.” Ed Butowsky also said, “We have the full attention of the White House on this.” Allegations in the Complaint include:
- Ed Butowsky maintained “regular contact” with White House officials including Steven Bannon, Sean Spicer and Sarah Flores.
- Ed Butowsky met with Sean Spicer who was kept “abreast of developments.”
- Ed Butowsky’s purpose in the Seth Rich investigation was to “solve the problem about Russians.”
- Ed Butowsky told the press, “I’m actually the one who’s been putting this [story] together but as you know I keep my name out of things because I have no credibility. One of the big conclusions we need to draw from this is that the Russians did not hack our computer systems and … there was no collusion like trump with the Russians.”
- Ed Butowsky instructed Rod Wheeler to use a “narrative” to “prove that the Russians didn’t hack into the DNC.”
- Ed Butowsky “exhibited a great deal of anxiety with Jack Burkman, a Republican lobbyist who claimed to have evidence that Seth Rich was killed by Russian operatives,” quoting, “I need to shut him up.”
- Rod Wheeler notified reporter and author of the story Malia Zimmerman “about her use of false quotes,” and was told in a text message, “Stick to the script.”
The complaint describes information provided by Seymour Hersh:
55. During his conversation with Butowsky, Mr. Hersh claimed that he had received information from an “FBI report.” Mr. Hersh had not seen the report himself, but explained: “I have somebody on the inside who will go and read a file for me. And I know this person is unbelievably accurate and careful. He’s a very high level guy.”
56. According to Mr. Hersh, his source told him that the FBI report states that, shortly after Seth Rich’s murder, the D.C. police obtained a warrant to search his home. When they arrived at the home, the D.C. police found Seth Rich’s computer, but were unable to access it. The computer was then provided to the D.C. police Cyber Unit, who also were unable to access the computer. At that point, the D.C. police contacted the Cyber Unit at the FBI’s Washington D.C. field office. Again, according to the supposed FBI report, the Washington D.C. field office was able to get into the computer and found that in “late spring early summer , [Seth Rich][made] contact with Wikileaks.” “They found what he had done. He had submitted a series of documents, of emails. Some juicy emails from the DNC.” Mr. Hersh told Butowsky that Seth Rich “offered a sample [to WikiLeaks][,] an extensive sample, you know I’m sure dozens, of emails, and said I want money.” (Brackets in original)
KEY SURROUNDING EVENTS TIMELINE
- September 16, Republican lobbyist Jack Burkman offers a reward to solve the Seth Rich case.
- May 16, the Fox News report comes out, as discussed above.
- July 11, audio recording of Seymour Hersh is posted on YouTube to no fanfare.
- July 23, New Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders announces that Sean Spicer is out and Anthony Scaramucci is in as Communications Director.
August 1, NPR reports the lawsuit in article “Behind Fox News’ Baseless Seth Rich Story: The Untold Tale.” NPR quotes Seymour Hersh:
Butowsky says he became convinced that the FBI had a report concluding that Seth Rich’s laptop showed he had had contacts with WikiLeaks after speaking to the legendary reporter Seymour Hersh, who was also investigating Rich’s death. According to the transcripts in the lawsuit, Butowsky says Hersh had an FBI source who confirmed the report. In an interview this week, Hersh sounds unconvinced. “I hear gossip,” Hersh tells NPR on Monday. “[Butowsky] took two and two and made 45 out of it.”
The NPR story also notes that Fox News reported an “anonymous federal investigator who said an FBI investigation found that Rich had been in contact with Gavin MacFadyen.”
Questioned about the NPR report, Sarah Huckabee Sanders says, “The president had no knowledge of the story [pre-publication].” She dismisses further questions: “It’s ongoing litigation that doesn’t involve anybody in the building.” Hours later, WikiLeaks promotes the prepared recordings that were posted to YouTube weeks earlier. Ed Butowsky deletes his Twitter account.
Finally, on the same day, Christopher Wray is confirmed to become the new FBI Director, following a June 7 nomination.
Four critical conclusions assumed to follow the release of the Seymour Hersh audio recordings do not follow from the recordings or the related facts. This is not to say with certainly that these conclusions are independently false. Based on the data presented, we don’t know for sure.
Articles that begin with facts from the Seymour Hersh audio recordings and the lawsuit should not leap to these four conclusions. But many do. Here are their conclusions and explanations why they are wrong.
Conclusion 1. STATEMENTS BY SEYMOUR HERSH ARE CONFIRMATION.
The first unproven leap by the “journalists” is to believe that Seymour Hersh statements are confirmation that Seth Rich was the source of the DNC Leaks. The argument goes like this:
- Argument: Seymour Hersh is famous for exposing the Vietnam My Lai massacre and the Iraq Abu Ghraib prison torture scandal. With that kind of record, he has high credibility.
- Conclusion: Therefore, Seymour Hersh’s statements about the FBI report must be true.
This conclusion is false because:
- Seymour Hersh published articles about the Vietnam and Iraq situations, but he did not publish an article about the FBI report. Discussions behind the scenes are simply not equivalent to released reports.
- In the NPR article, Seymour Hersh discounted the FBI report: “‘I hear gossip,’ Hersh tells NPR on Monday. ‘[Butowsky] took two and two and made 45 out of it.'” (Brackets in original)
- Reports cannot both claim “credibility” of Seymour Hersh to prove the FBI report true, then ignore or disregard his credibility when he calls the FBI report “gossip.”
- According to paragraph 57 of the Complaint, “Mr. Hersh cautioned Butowsky that the information was not necessarily true.” Seymour Hersh is skeptical of the source himself. That may be why he did not write up a report.
- Many online stories publish Complaint paragraphs 55 and 56 in full, but ignore the very next paragraph — paragraph 57 — which goes against the narrative. One report even goes so far as to accuse NPR of hiding information, then fails to mention paragraph 57.
- The audio leaks themselves were edited and posted by an account named “DeBunking Rod Wheeler.” This account name tells us very directly that the recordings are selected product of one side, and not, as Julian Assange likes to say “pristine.”
Proper Conclusion: It is possible that the information Seymour Hersh discussed in the recording is true, but not proven. Full recordings are needed — not just “debunking” edits from one partisan side. More investigation is needed, and more will come out.
Conclusion 2. SETH RICH PROVIDED THE DNC FILES TO WIKILEAKS.
The second unproven leap by the journalists is to believe that Seth Rich actually provided the DNC Leaks to WikiLeaks. As shown at Conclusion 1 above, none of the underlying facts stated by Seymour Hersh were proven true. Since none of the underlying facts stated by Seymour Hersh are proven true, then any subset of unproven facts cannot be true either.
Independently, it appears that WikiLeaks and Julian Assange can resolve the source mystery any time they feel like it, but it looks like they are fooling around with the issue:
- In an early August 2016 interview, asked only whether he is sitting on an “October surprise,” Julian Assange volunteers that “our sources take risks” and that Seth Rich was “shot in the back — murdered.” Asked what he is suggesting, Julian Assange answers, “I’m suggesting that our sources take risks.”
- In context, “our sources” applies to Seth Rich and “take risks” applies to his murder. The Seth Rich murder is an example of source risk.
- Also early August, WikiLeaks offers a $20,000 reward “for information leading to conviction for the murder of DNC staffer Seth Rich.”
- Between the linkage statement and the reward, and given the fact that 27 people die per day from gunfire, the mention of Seth Rich strongly implies that he was murdered due to his leaks of the DNC emails.
- The political result is achieved, as a wave of stories confirming Seth Rich as the source of the DNC Leaks rides the internet.
- Julian Assange also boasts a strict rule of confidentiality in the early August interview: “We don’t comment on who our sources are.”
- January 3, 2017, Julian Assange denies that the source of the DNC Leaks is Russia, saying, “Our source is not a state party.”
- Sources do not come neatly marked and verified as “not a state.” If Julian Assange knows this much, he or WikiLeaks knows more.
- By commenting that the leak source is “not a state,” he violates his confidentiality rule. A comment excluding some sources points more strongly toward remaining sources, mathematically speaking. Seth Rich is one of those remaining sources. Therefore, it is more likely that Seth Rich is the source after Julian Assange comments than it was before. He is pointing us in a direction again.
- Ironically, his self-proclaimed confidentiality rule can no longer protect Seth Rich now. If a source faces a risk of murder, that risk ends when the source is murdered. Julian Assange is hiding behind a convenient rule of no consequence.
- Because WikiLeaks has credibility, the notion goes, Julian Assange should be believed. However, a “perfect record” of accurate leaked documents does not equal perfect commentaries by Julian Assange. If anything, his vague statements should be questioned.
Any day now, Julian Assange can confirm or deny that Seth Rich was the source of the DNC Leaks. All he needs to do is say it.
Conclusion 3. CLAIMS OF RUSSIA HACKING THE DNC ARE DEBUNKED.
This leap builds upon incorrect Conclusion 1 above. But pretend for a moment that statements by Seymour Hersh are all correct, that there is an FBI report indicating Seth Rich was in touch with WikiLeaks, and that he provided the DNC Leaks to the organization…
There is still a huge problem. Seth Rich leaking the information cannot preclude Russia from hacking it too. Both things can happen independently. This conclusion is impossible. It does not follow at all. The Complaint itself makes this point in paragraph 57:
57… Mr. Hersh cautioned Butowski that the information … even if true, it did not preclude the possibility that that the Russians also hacked the DNC.
Incredibly, some reporters and bloggers leap to the conclusion that Russia did not hack the DNC, even after being handed the proper logic through the Complaint. Some even publish paragraphs 55 and 56, and ignore 57.
Conclusion 4. THE ENTIRE “RUSSIA-GATE NARRATIVE” IS DEBUNKED.
Those who insist that the entire “Russia-gate narrative” is debunked by Seymour Hersh need not wonder why most people don’t take them seriously. After leaping through the three conclusions above, this one is completely off the radar — the most impossible of all.
Whether Seth Rich is the source of DNC Leaks and whether Seth Rich is part of the “Clinton body count” or not, other comments Seymour Hersh makes about ‘Russia-gate’ are merely his opinions about people or about “hacking.” They do not cover all alleged Russian connections.
Before the election, information about Russian collusion was very weak, as illustrated in this report. That was then. Today, information suggesting Donald Trump and other Republicans were working with Russian operatives is growing.
OTHER CONSPIRACIES NOT YET DEBUNKED
While we are drawing conclusions that do not follow from the facts, here are two related story ideas for great internet journalists:
Russians, Republicans or WikiLeaks killed Seth Rich to pin it on Democrats and add to the ‘Clinton body count’ for political purposes just before the 2016 election.
Russians, Republicans or WikiLeaks killed WikiLeaks “director” Gavin MacFadyen because he never actually did talk with Seth Rich — providing an excuse for Julian Assange to make vague pointed statements.
These are as good as others. Post links to your stories in the comments …