- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 1, 2017

President Trump reviewed the now-debunked story concerning a murdered Democratic National Committee staffer’s connection to WikiLeaks before it was published, NPR reported Tuesday.

According to a lawsuit filed by Rod Wheeler, a commentator for Fox News, Mr. Trump himself looked at a draft of the story before it ran. Mr. Wheeler filed his lawsuit against the network over the story, claiming a reporter concocted quotes attributed to him.

Mr. Wheeler also said wealthy investor and Republican surrogate Ed Butowsky offered to pay him to investigate the story. The two later met with former White House press secretary Sean Spicer to brief him on the findings as they were investigating.

The story in question was based on unfounded conspiracy rumors involving DNC aide Seth Rich, who was murdered earlier this year. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange hinted that the death may be part of his organization’s release of hundreds of Hillary Clinton’s campaign staff emails. The Fox News story furthered the narrative suggesting Democrats may have been part of Mr. Rich’s death.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the president “had no knowledge of the story and it is completely untrue that there was White House involvement.”

Democrats expressed outrage at the allegation, calling the White House’s possible involvement in the story “vile.”

“If these allegations are true, it is beyond vile that the White House — and possibly even Trump himself — would use the murder of a young man to distract the public’s attention from their chaotic administration and Trump’s ties to Russia,” Xochitl Hinojosa, DNC communications director, said in a statement.

The lawsuit alleges that Mr. Trump and the White House wanted to further the story to take heat off of the investigation into their own campaign’s ties to Russia.

The network denies misquoting or falsely quoting Mr. Wheeler, but did retract the story.

Jay Wallace, president of News at Fox News, said in a statement: “The accusation that FoxNews.com published Malia Zimmerman’s story to help detract from coverage of the Russia collusion issue is completely erroneous. The retraction of this story is still being investigated internally and we have no evidence that Rod Wheeler was misquoted by Zimmerman. Additionally, FOX News vehemently denies the race discrimination claims in the lawsuit — the dispute between Zimmerman and Rod Wheeler has nothing to do with race.”

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